Jeweled Rice

Growing up, I was exposed to much delicious Persian food (owing to the large Iranian population in LA). One of my favorite dishes is Zereshk Polo - basmati rice with barberries and sometimes other dried fruits and nuts. I started with zereshk polo and added other ingredients commonly found in jeweled rice, ending up in a hybrid recipe of sorts.

Adapted from this recipe. Makes enough rice to serve 4.

1 cup long-grain basmati rice
1/4 medium onion, sliced thin
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup dried barberries (zereshk), cleaned, washed and drained
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon Persian spice mix (advieh) or 1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1 tablespoon slivered pistachios

Rinse the basmati rice well. Soak in salty cold water for a few hours to overnight. When ready to cook, drain and rinse the rice well to get rid of the excess salt.

Rinse the barberries well. Put in a colander, inside a bowl of water, for 15 minutes. Any sand or other yuckies with the berries will fall to the bottom. Give the barberries a quick look and make sure there aren't any stems, stones, or other things you wouldn't want to eat.

Saute the sliced onion in 1 tablespoon butter until translucent. Add barberries and saute for just 1 minute over LOW heat because barberries burn very easily! Add 1/2 tablespoon sugar, mix well, and set aside. (This can be done while the rice is parboiling.)

Mix saffron strings, a pinch of sugar, and a few tablespoons of boiling water. Mix and set aside. (This can be done while the rice is parboiling.)

Bring 3 cups water and salt to a boil. Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. The rice is ready when its no longer hard (but not soft enough that you'd want to eat a lot of it). Drain.

Get all the rice grains out of the pot, then in the same pot heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon water.

In a bowl, mix 2 spatulas of rice, the yogurt, and a few drops of saffron water and spread the mixture over the bottom of the pot to form a tender crust (tah-dig).

Next mound 2 spatulas full of rice into the middle of the pot atop the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle some spice mix on top of the mound and then top that with a layer of the barberries. Repeat: rice layer, spices, barberries; rice, spices, barberries, until all the ingredients are used up.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat.

Melt the last tablespoon of butter with the rest of the saffron water and another 1/8 cup of water. Pour over the pyramid. Reduce heat to low, and cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you need until the rest of your meal is ready.

Wet down a tea towel with cold water. When the rice is done cooking, set the hot pot of rice down on the cold towel. This helps release the tadig from the bottom of the pot.

Decorate the top of the mound with almonds and pistachios.

THE SPICE MIX (advieh-ye polow)

2 tablespoons ground dried rose petals (gol-eh sorkh)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (darchin)
2 tablespoons ground cardamom (hel)
1 tablespoon ground cumin (zireh)
Mix all the ground spices together in a bowl. Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness.

Zeresk Polo
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