Persian Jeweled Rice: Javaher Polow
Things I’ve learned from living in other people’s homes: people love their wine and their spaghetti sauce/noodles. Like, stock pile levels of love. I’ve also learned that most people have crappy spices. So crappy they should be embarrassed. I’m not super crazy about my spice collection, but I show spices the respect that they deserve. I go for quality and I buy in small quantities so they stay fresh. When you smell my curry powder, it will smell like a thousand delicious flavors, not like this place’s stale celery smelling curry powder. I like to have cumin on hand at all times. Doesn’t everybody? What in the world is happening? Hey Mister Owner-Of-The-House-I’m-Subletting, don’t you ever have Taco Tuesday?
What this little rant is leading to, is that I would like to share this Persian Jeweled Rice recipe with you all. I’d love for you to try it. It’s filled with toasted nuts, dried fruit, spices, crispy rice, and lots of butter. Perfection, no?
But please don’t mess it up with old, stale, and tasteless spices. There is only so much ranting a person can do before they end up institutionalized. Thanks.
I had my first taste of Persian food as youngster and I’ve always been jealous of the kids that I knew who grew up eating it. I mean, they freaking eat rose petals. That’s amazing. I ate Levantine-style Arabic food growing up (with rosewater, not rose petals – so rude) but Persian food is completely different. So don’t even think about mixing Persians and Arabs up; I know how you people love to do that. Well, I actually wouldn’t mind if you thought I was Persian because then this rice dish would have been on my Thanksgiving table. (Now I’m imagining a childhood that never was. One with lots of rose petals. I sure hope alternate universe Persian Sarah enjoyed herself.)
Yes, this is a celebratory dish, traditionally served at weddings and the like. Great for company, special occasions, or when you really just want to wow someone. It pairs well with roast meats, kabobs, and kofta. And since I’m insisting that you use good quality spices, I may as well throw my butter snobbery at you too. Get some of the good stuff. Find a brand that is just cream and salt. If it says anything about “flavors”, just put it down and back away. I like salted butter in this dish and my favorite brands are Kerrygold and the famous fermented French butter with a crazy cult following: Beurre de Baratte from Rodolphe Le Meunier. It’s dangerous. Here is a whole article about why it’s the best butter in America right now.
All that butter has a purpose, and that purpose is to give us glorious tahdig. Tahdig is the buttery crispy golden-brown layer of rice that forms on the bottom of the pot. You give each guest a sliver. And they rejoice. Have you noticed that there’s something about crispy bits of rice that get the people going? Koreans love it, Persians love it, the Spanish love it, I love it, you love it. (You just might not know it yet.) I love my logic.
I should mention that barberries are traditional in this dish, but they can be more difficult to find. I actually found some at my market, but they looked a little past their prime so I opted for goji berries. And since goji berries aren’t as tart as barberries, I added tart cherries as well. Cranberries or currants would be another good option. NO RAISINS. Sorry, you could use raisins (and something tart), I just don’t want to hear about it. I dislike them. There’s a whole backstory to my dislike of raisins… Oh, perhaps another time. I’m sure I’ll need another rant to open my next blog post.
I’d also recommend reading the whole recipe before you start. Some of the steps can be started as other items are cooking. This is a multi-tasking recipe. Hey! That isn’t code for “difficult”, I just want you to be prepared.
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron soaked in 1/2 cup of hot water
- 2 cups of basmati rice
- 2 pinches of sea salt
- 1.5 cup of carrots cut into thick strips
- 1/4 cup freshly peeled orange peel cut crosswise, from one organic orange
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
- 1/2 cup toasted almond slivers
- 1/2 cup toasted coarsely chopped pistachio
- 1 tablespoon of salted butter
- 2 cups of minced shallots, from 2 extra large shallots
- sea salt
- 1 tablespoon of crushed rose petals
- 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground cumin
- large pinch of ground cardamom
- large pinch of ground coriander
- 1/3 cup of chopped, loosely packed dried figs (that have been soaked in hot water for 5 minutes, then drained)
- 1/3 cup of chopped, loosely packed dried apricots (that have been soaked in hot water for 5 minutes, then drained)
- 1/4 cup goji berries
- 1/4 cup tart cherries
- 5 tablespoons of salted butter
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- Bring 3 quarts of water and 2 large pinches of salt to boil in a large pot. While water is heating, rinse rice several times in cool water until it runs clear. Drain. When water comes to a boil, add rice and cook for 7 minutes. Rinse rice with cold water and drain. Spread rice onto a baking sheet and set aside.
- Add carrots and orange peel to a small sauce pan with 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or so until the liquid reduces down to about a 1/4 cup. This can be cooking while you are prepping and cooking other ingredients. Drain carrot orange mixture and reserve syrup.
- In a heavy dry pot (enameled cast iron is perfect), toast the almonds and then the crushed pistachios. After the pot becomes very hot, it should only take 1-2 minutes. Stir frequently and watch carefully to avoid burning. Remove and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat and add shallots with a few large pinches of sea salt. Let cook until shallots get colored, about 10-15 minutes. Add all spices (rose petals, cinnamon, allspice, cumin,cardamom, and coriander) and lower heat to medium low. Stir until very fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Then add all dried fruit and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Melt the 5 tablespoons of butter in heavy bottom wide pot that has a lid. Enameled cast iron is perfect. Melt over high heat. Add half of the parboiled rice. Press down firmly into melted butter with the back of a spatula. Poke holes all over the rice with the end of your spatula so steam can escape. Then don't touch it and let it continue to cook on high for 7 minutes. Resist the urge to stir it. Don't cover it.
- After time is up, smooth over layer of rice to close up the steam holes and lower heat to the lowest setting. Drizzle a few tablespoons of saffron water over the rice. Then add half of the shallot fruit mixture. Add half of the carrot and orange peel mixture over that, and drizzle half of the remaining saffron water over it. Then sprinkle 1/3 of the toasted nuts over that.
- Next goes the remaining rice, but we don't want it evenly spread, just sort of piled on top. Think pyramid, but not so high that you can't close the lid. Drizzle remainder of saffron water over the rice, as well as 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water. Then layer on remainder shallot/fruit mixture and orange/carrot mixture. Pour over reserved syrup from orange/carrot mixture and sprinkle another third of the toasted nuts.
- Cover and wrap a tea towel around the lid to keep the steam in. Be sure to keep ends of towel tucked up and away from the flame. Cook on low for 30 minutes. Do not disturb. After 30 minutes, turn off heat and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes undisturbed.
- To serve, spoon rice onto a large serving platter and sprinkle with remaining toasted nuts.