Friday is Norooz — the Persian New Year — and all through elementary and high school, I had this holiday off. This was because I grew up in Beverly Hills.
People outside Los Angeles have a certain image of Beverly Hills. More often than not, they envision a city of blondes. The truth is more than 20 percent of the population is Iranian. Nearly half the kids I went to school with were Persian, and most spoke Farsi at home.
When I was young, I wondered why my friends’ mothers always overcooked the bottom of the rice. My mom never had this problem. Then I realized it was completely intentional. The crispy bottom is called the tahdeeg, and it’s an Iranian delicacy. Margaret Shaida wrote in The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, “The golden tahdeeg is the ultimate proof of (the cook’s) ability to prepare perfect rice.”
I used Shaida’s four-page description of proper rice cooking as a guide, and it worked. The process has a lot of steps, but it’s only overwhelming if you’re reading it as you go and trying to do a million things at once. Like I was. My biggest fear was burning the bottom, as I’ve seen many times before, but it came out just right. The egg and yogurt mixture made the bottom rich, golden and crispy. Now that I’ve done it once, I could probably go back and do it start to finish without a recipe.
The stuffed chicken recipe from Elisabeth Rozin was great, too. (The fruit and bulgar mixture would make a tasty dish on its own.) Kat made a cucumber yogurt salad on the side, and for dessert was homemade pistachio ice cream. (Fun fact: Iran and California are the top two producers of the world’s pistachios.)
So why not celebrate the first day of spring and the Persian New Year with an Iranian-inspired meal? Both are about clean starts, so try something new this week.
Stuffed Honey-Sesame Chicken
Recipe only slightly modified from The Flavor-Principle Cookbook
- 1 whole chicken
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 small onion (white or yellow)
- 1/2 cup bulgar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup dried golden raisins (original recipe says 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup apricots)
- juice from half a lemon
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
- salt and pepper
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Saute minced onion till soft. Then add bulgar and saute for another five minutes.
Add cinnamon, stock, tomato sauce, dried fruit, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then turn heat low and cook five more minutes. (Recipe says cook covered, but we forgot. It then says to let stand for an hour, but we purposely ignored that one.)
Wash and dry the chicken. Place in a roasting pan.
In a small saucepan, heat honey, 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle of salt until melted and combined.
Stuff the chicken with the bulgar mixture. Brush the chicken with honey-butter. Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, brushing frequently with honey butter.
After an hour, baste once more with honey butter and drippings from the pan. Sprinkle sesame seeds all over the surface of the chicken. Return to oven for 15 more minutes, or until juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the body. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Persian Style Rice with Tahdeeg
Recipe adapted from The Legendary Cuisine of Persia
There are a lot of steps here, so read this the whole way through before you start cooking so you’re clear before you begin.
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons plain yogurt
- 2 teaspoons liquid saffron (Saffron is very common in Iranian food, but I cheated and used a few shakes of ground turmeric for the bright yellow color. It doesn’t offer the same taste as saffron, but it doesn’t totally change the dish and it’s not as expensive as saffron. This is a trick I learned from The Complete Spice Book.)
Rinse the rice in several changes of water. The recipe said to soak in cold water for a few hours, but I skipped that, and didn’t notice any problems at the end, so I can tell you to do the same.
Bring 2 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Pour drained rice into boiling water. The book suggests adding a spoonful of plain yogurt to the pot, or using that water that accumulates at the top of the yogurt container. This is meant to improve the appearance and taste of the rice, especially if it is not top quality. You can also add a tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent the rice from breaking apart.
After boiling for 3 minutes, test the rice. It should be soft on the outside but still firm and slightly resistant in the center, though not hard or brittle. If it is not quite ready, give it a few more moments, but do not stir the rice. Stirring can break the grains. When ready, strain rice completely, and rinse with lukewarm water. Make sure rice is completely strained and grains are not packed too tightly.
Start a saucepan over medium heat with 1/3 cup of vegetable oil. (Recipe says to use the same pot, but I used a broader, shallower pan for this step because I wanted to be able to easily flip the rice onto a plate afterward.)
To make the tahdeeg, mix 1 egg with a teaspoon of yogurt, saffron or turmeric, and some salt in a small bowl. Add about 1 cup of rice to the mixture and coat. When oil is hot, put egg-coated rice down first, covering the bottom of the pan. Then sprinkle remaining rice into the pan using a large slotted spoon. It is important to sprinkle the rice, rather than dump all at once, so it stays fluffy and doesn’t get compressed.
Poke three holes into the rice by using the bottom of the spoon handle. This releases steam.
Wrap the lid in a clean kitchen towel and put firmly over saucepan. The towel absorbs the steam, preventing moisture from dripping back into the rice and making it soggy.
The covered pan should stay on high heat for a few minutes until it is steaming. You can tell if it’s steaming without taking off the lid by flicking water drops on the outside of the saucepan. If it sizzles and evaporates immediately, the rice is probably steaming, and you can turn it down to medium-low. Cook for 30 minutes at this setting, or even lower for an hour, depending on the timing of the rest of your meal.
When ready to serve, replace lid with a large plate. Flip the pan so rice transfers to the plate, tahdeeg side up for all to admire.