Persian Bejeweled Rice
I’ve made a study of Persian cuisine for a couple of decades now, ever since marrying my Iranian-born husband. Right from the start, the unique qualities of Iranian cooking delighted me: stews that pair fruit and meat with vegetables; fresh herbs that perfume rice dishes or are served like salad at the table, unadorned by dressing; the fragrance of cinnamon in savory dishes, rosewater in desserts, and saffron in nearly everything. Like an oriental carpet, Persian cuisine is intricate, sophisticated, and a feast of color for the eyes.
Rice lies at the heart of a Persian meal, and a cook’s skill is judged by the quality of her polo. The texture should be fluffy not sticky, with each grain lying separated from its sisters. The crispy layer at the bottom of the pot, known as tadiq, must be golden, not too dark and not too pale, crunchy without being oily.
It was my good fortune to marry into a family of excellent cooks, and over the years they’ve shared their secrets with me. Each one has her own way of preparing Persian specialties, and each one is convinced her method is the best—this is not a family of shrinking violets. Over the years, I’ve collected tips and techniques from Iranian friends and relatives and come up with my own versions.
My signature dish is javaher polo, (bejeweled rice), which offers a festive blend of colors, flavors, and textures. It sparkles with pistachios, orange peel, and ruby-toned barberries, with a splash of golden saffron. Javaher polo is traditionally served at weddings but can be enjoyed any time of the year. It’s good hot or cold, paired with chicken, or served on its own with a spoonful of yogurt on the side.
The secret ingredient in my recipe is a drop or two of rosewater, just enough to add fragrance but not so much that it overpowers. If you don’t like rosewater in your food, just leave it out. You’ll have a more traditional version of the dish. Noosh-e jaan! Bon appetit!
1 large orange (peel only)
2 tangerines (peel only)
2 medium-sized carrots, julienned
½ cup sliced pistachios
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup zereshk (barberries), available in Middle Eastern markets, or use dried cranberries
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 3-4 tablespoons of hot water
Splash of rosewater (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
For the rice:
2 ½ cups Basmati rice
8 cups water
3 tablespoons oil
1. Rinse the rice in several changes of water. Cover with more water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and soak for at least one hour.
Heidi Noroozy writes fiction set in the Persian-American subculture and regularly travels to Iran for research and inspiration. She has published short stories in German-language anthologies and is working on a contemporary crime novel set in the turbulent world of modern Iran, where rebellious youth push the envelope of their restrictive society and journalists find ways to report the truth under the vigilant eyes of government censors. On Mondays, she blogs about Persian culture at http://noveladventurers.blogspot.com/, where the conversation is about travel, culture, and storytelling.