I’ve been fascinated by Persian cooking for some time now. It’s so wonderfully fragrant and fresh, overflowing with vibrant herbs and warming spices and there’s a balance of sweet and savoury that’s second to none.
I’ve cooked a few of Najmieh Batmanglij’s (a true guru of Persian cooking) recipes in recent years and she’s taught me quite a different way of cooking rice which I’ve used here. The rice is precooked first before being added back into a mix of caramelised onions, dried fruit, nuts, carrots and a wonderful mix of cardamom and saffron. The whole lot is then cooked again very briefly on the hob to create a wonderfully buttery, fragrant rice dish that’s as wonderful eaten from the pot as it is accompanied by a delicious stew.
180g white basmati rice
2 red onions, finely sliced
10 cardamom pods
Generous pinch of saffron
75g chopped dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, dates – whatever you have to hand)
25g almonds, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly grated
4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp fresh chopped coriander
Zest of one lemon
Rinse the rice in a sieve with lots of cold running water to remove the excess starch. Add the rice to a small saucepan, cover with about 1.5 inches cold water and ½ tsp salt. Bring to the boil, stir once, and simmer for 10 minutes. Then drain in a sieve, rinse with cold water and leave to drain.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide non-stick pan that ideally has a lid. Add the sliced onions and cook for 10-12 minutes over a medium heat until well reduced in volume and starting to brown.
Whilst the onions are cooking, bash the cardamom pods gently using a mortar and pestle to break the tough skins and enable you to scrape out the seeds. Discard the skins and roughly grind the seeds. Add the saffron to a small ramekin and pour over 1 tbsp boiling water and put to one side for a few minutes.
Once the onions are ready, add the roughly ground cardamom to the pan and cook for a minute or so. Next add the nuts, dried fruit and ¾ tsp salt. Mix well before adding the grated carrots, saffron and its soaking water and the drained rice. Stir gently, but well enough to coat all the grains and distribute the ingredients evenly.
Pop the lid on the pan and then place on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to peek or stir. The residual moisture in the part-cooked rice and carrots will heat up and the resultant steam will perfectly finish cooking the rice. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and leave for a further 5 minutes, with the lid on; remember no peeking.
Once you’ve patiently waited, gently stir through the lemon zest and herbs and serve. Perfect eaten straight away as well as at room temperature.