One thing I like about having this blog is that it forces me to constantly think about creating new content. Don't continue cooking the same old tried-and-true recipes. Otherwise, I'll have nothing to write about here.
Of course, when times get busy (as they have been lately), it's easy to get lazy and rely upon those tried-and-true favorites. I cannot tell you how many times I've made Baja fish tacos, Taiwanese grilled corn, or the simple roasted beet salad this past summer. One of Bryan's recent favorites that we've made numerous times? Pasta Carbonara.
I must confess I was hoping for an "easy" project when I got an offer from Dailybuzz Food to sample a product from RiceSelect and write a "Worlds of Flavor" blog post about the dinner.
I thought, "rice will be easy! There will be so many different kinds of Chinese things I can make."
The catch? They wouldn't tell us what kind of rice we'd get.
As luck would have it, they sent me brown basmati rice - so very, very, un-Chinese. Completely unfamiliar with this type of rice (I don't think I've ever cooked basmati rice before), I had to do a bit of research.
I finally settled upon trying to make Chelow Ba Polow Paz, or Persian Saffron Rice, an intensely fragrant rice with a gorgeous crispy crust.
Prep: The key ingredients are, of course, basmati rice and saffron. I used brown basmati rice because that's what RiceSelect sent me, but normal white basmati works fine. Ideally, soak the rice in salted water for 1-3 hours, or even overnight!Try to get whole saffron threads, not any sort of ground up powder. You want to finely grind the saffron threads before letting them steep in hot water (clearly something I forgot to do!) for preferably about 30 minutes.
Bring a pot of nicely salted water to a rolling boil, and add the basmati rice. Cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until the rice is al dente but not mushy.
Now we will make the "crust" part (known as tahdig in Persian cooking) separately. Mix about 5-6 tablespoons of the parboiled rice and stir together with a portion of the saffron water, a small individual-sized carton (about ½ cup) of plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt), and optionally 1 egg.
After adding some water and oil (or butter) to the pot, Line the bottom of the pot with the yogurt-mixed rice. Add the rest of the parboiled rice on top (forming sort of a pyramid), and poke some holes to allow the water from below to steam up.
Cook on high heat for 7-10 minutes (you're forming the crust here!).
Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered with a towel-covered lid, for about 30-60 minutes until the rice is done.
The crust may be a bit stuck to the edge, so I got my trusty flexible spatula (seriously, a life saver here!), which did a beautiful job of separating the rice "cake" from the pot.
Carefully flip . . .
And voila! Isn't that a gorgeous crust?
It was very crispy, and had lovely saffron notes. I sort of wished it were a bit more salty, which of course is easily remedied after the fact. I also wonder how this would have tasted had I boiled the rice in chicken stock instead, which is how I usually make my easy saffron rice in a rice cooker (which is actually quite tasty!).
Nevertheless, I couldn't stop eating that addictive crust. It's really fun to crunch on!
Persian Saffron Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1 6-oz individual sized cup of plain yogurt (or about 3-4 tablespoons)
1 egg (optional)
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
Soak the rice in ~ 6 cups of water for at least 1 hour, but preferably 3 hours. Grind up saffron threads into a fine powder (you can use a mortar and pestle, or just use your fingers and try to crush it as much as possible). Let the powder steep in about ¼ cup hot water for at least 30 minutes.
Parboil the rice for about 10 minutes, drain water and set aside. Take about 5-6 tablespoons of the parboiled rice and mix it with the yogurt, egg, and half of the saffron water.
Using a heavy pot (I used my Le Creuset cast iron Dutch oven), dd enough water just to coat the bottom of the pot. Add about an equal amount of vegetable oil. Line the bottom of the pot with the yogurt mixed rice. Without disturbing anything, pile the rest of the cooked rice on top. Using the back of a wooden spoon, poke several holes into the rice pile in order to allow water to steam through.
Cover and heat on high for 5-8 minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about an hour (or until the rice is done) with the cover of the pot wrapped in a towel.
When finished, add remaining saffron water to the pot, cover, and let cool for 10 minutes. Use a flexible spatula to try to loosen the crust from the pot. Flip around onto a plate, and serve!
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