Wednesday, January 18, 2006

magnificent Persian rice

My first encounter with Persian food was in Munich. An Iranian friend took me to a restaurant and introduced me to chelow kebab, what she described as Iran's national dish, the equivalent of steak frites in France. It consists of meats grilled on skewers and, rice. In general, I have a sceptical attitude towards non-Japanese rice preparation and was therefore totally unprepared for the delicacy of the Persion version, a fluffy heap of saffran-specked rice accompanied by an eggyolk in a half-shell. My friend intructed me to form a hole in the rice and pour in the egg, to mix carefully and finally sprinkle over ground sumac, slightly acidic to taste. It was heavenly and reminded me of the Japanese tamago gohan (fresh egg broken over just-made rice, preferably newly harvested shinmai) only much, much more celestial. It was the first inkling I had of the sophisticated wonders of Persian food.

Vogue foodwriter Jeffrey Steingarten qualifies the Persians as the "world champions in rice cookery" and includes a recipe for rice and lentils in The Man Who Ate Everything. I tried this last night and was astounded by the intricacy and amount of care that goes into a single dish of rice. The preparation involves: washing rice in repeated changes of water followed by soaking, pre-boiling, draining and rinsing. The same precedure for lentils. Thinly slicing onions and frying them gently in ghee with chopped dates and golden raisins. Mixing a portion of the rice with yogurt and spreading the mixture over the bottom of the pot. Making alternating layers of rice, lentils, caramelized onion and fruit to form a pyramid, sprinkling ground cinnamon, cumin and coriandre along the way. Sealing the pot tightly with a dish towel and setting it over low heat for one hour. Letting the pot rest over a wet dish towel to let the bottom loosen before carefully inversing the pot over a serving plate.

The result is a mound of jeweled and perfumed rice, crowned with the coveted "burnt" crust. It can be served with chunks of lamb but it is magnificent on its own.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your website. It has a lot of great pictures and is very informative.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting website with a lot of resources and detailed explanations.

9:36 AM  
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