To help us learn more about Persian (a.k.a. Iranian) food, we turned to culinary authority Najmieh Batmanglij. In addition to insight on Persian culinary traditions, she provided us with recipes from her book New Food of Life.
What to buy: When purchasing saffron, choose threads rather than powder, which is too often adulterated with turmeric.
Barberries are small currants that are often used in Persian cooking. They can be found at Middle Eastern markets or online.
- Yield: 6 servings
- 3 cups long-grain basmati rice
- 1 frying chicken, about 3 pounds, or 2 Cornish game hens
- 2 peeled onions, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
- 2 cups dried barberries (zereshk), cleaned, washed, and drained
- 2/3 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons slivered pistachios
- Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.
- Place the whole chicken in a baking dish. Stuff the bird with one of the whole onions, the garlic, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon saffron water. Cover and bake in a 350°F oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Clean the barberries by removing their stems and placing the berries in a colander. Place colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.
- Sauté 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons butter, add barberries and cumin, and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tablespoons sugar, mix well, and set aside.
- Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained 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. Bite a few grains; if the rice feels soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.
- In the same pot heat 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons 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).
- Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot, then sprinkle the cumin over the rice. Repeat these steps, arranging the rice in the shape of a pyramid. This shape allows room for the rice to expand and enlarge. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Mix the remaining melted butter and saffron water with 1/4 cup of water and pour over the pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or paper towel over the pot; cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over low heat.
- Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool, covered, for 5 minutes on a damp surface to free crust from the bottom of the pot.
- Remove lid and take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside for use as garnish.
- Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with the saffron-flavored rice, some of the barberry mixture, and almonds and pistachios. Nush-e Jan!
Note: You may place the barberries in the rice and steam them together but the color of barberries will not be as red as when you layer them with the rice at the last minute.
If using fresh barberries, clean by removing the stems and rinse with cold water.