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Saffron, Yoghurt and Cranberry Persian(ish) Rice

by Alexina Anatole from Bitter

Inspired by the classic Iranian rice dish, tahdig and adapted from Samin Nosrat's recipe in Salt Fat Acid Heat, Alexina's version includes plenty of herbs and cranberries to complement the fragrant, buttery rice.

Introduction

When I spent some time with my friend Bobak, learning more about Iranian food, he showed me how to make tahdig (a rice dish that features a delicious golden crust of rice, which forms at the bottom of the pan while cooking) and also introduced me to different types – ones layered with things like potatoes and even stale bread. He directed me, a tahdig novice, to start with Samin Nosrat’s Persian-ish rice (from Salt Fat Acid Heat), where she makes the art of the tahdig feel accessible. This recipe is adapted from hers, with the addition of herbs and sharp cranberries to cut through the rich, buttery quality of the rice and saffron. This is delicious alongside stews (particularly Iranian ones), although I have been known to eat it by itself no problem.

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Ingredients

4.5 litres (1 gallon plus 3 cups) water
75g (3oz/generous ½ cup) Diamond kosher salt (don’t panic)
400g (14oz/2 cups) basmati rice, rinsed thoroughly
2 good pinches of saffron
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
2 tsp boiling water
3 tbsp neutral oil
3 tbsp butter
60g (2 ½oz/heaped 1 cup) cranberries, fresh or frozen
10g (¼ oz) each of coriander (cilantro), dill and flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Essential kit

You will need: equipment 25cm (10in) seasoned cast-iron or non-stick frying pan (skillet).

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Method

Fill a large saucepan with the measured water and salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then add the rice and cook until al dente, around 6 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse under cold running water to stop it from cooking any further.

Meanwhile, crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar, then combine it with the yoghurt and boiling water until you have a gleaming golden-coloured mixture. Stir through a third of the cooked rice.

Set the frying pan over a medium heat, then add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the yoghurt-rice mixture to the pan and level it out. Scatter the cranberries across the centre, followed by the herbs, then pile the remaining rice into the pan, mounding it gently in the middle (I’ve not yet found out why this shape is essential but every Iranian I’ve ever met tells you to do it this way). Using the handle of a wooden spoon, gently create 5–6 holes through to the bottom of the rice without disturbing the layers too much (these are to allow steam to escape as the rice cooks, which will enable the bottom to get crispy). Cook the rice for around 15 minutes until you see a golden crust beginning to form at the sides of the pan (you can use a spatula to gently have a little peek if you can’t see anything from above). At this point, reduce the heat to low and cook for another 15 minutes, by which time the rice should be ready.

To unmould the rice, run a spatula around the edges of the pan to check the crust isn’t sticking. Much as you would do for a tarte tatin, place a plate on top of the pan, then invert it in one swift movement. The rice should slip out in one piece. Serve.

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