Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Persian cooking

When trying to learn a new language, it's important to get immersed in the culture as much as you can. What better way to do so than my favorite way- cooking. My Farsi is coming along slowly but surely, and it definitely helps that I have a great Persian teacher. So we stopped studying for the day and I got a lesson on a basic staple of Persian cooking- rice. Rice, or Polow as it's known is something that every Iranian woman knows how to cook. Today I made "Zereshk Polow" or Rice with Barberries. I've never even heard of barberries (زرشکbefore, but they are similar to a cranberry- tart and a bit sour, and maybe a quarter smaller in size. Along with Zereshk Polow, we also made "Tahdig Sibzamini" which is Potato Tahdig. "Tahdig Sibzamini" literally means "Tah" (bottom) "dig" (pot) "sibzamini" (apple from the ground). So it's the apple from the ground in the bottom of the pot. ;) Tahdig is the crust of the rice, potato or pita that you make on the bottom of the pot/rice maker. It was actually simple to make and the taste...let's just say there was nothing leftover. 

Zereshk Polow
4 cups basmati rice
2 tbl butter (salted), plus 1 tbl for zereshk
~ 2 tbl. fresh saffron, ground*
2t salt
canola oil
zereshk (1-2 cups)
2 tbl sugar

Place rice in a bowl and cover with water. Add the salt. Allow to soak for 30 mins to 1 hour. Meanwhile, fill a pot with water (about 1/2 the pot) and bring to a boil. After the hour is up, discard of the water that the rice is in and then add rice to the pot of boiling water. Add some salt again. Cover and let the rice cook for about 10 minutes. 
After 10 minutes, remove the cover and using a large wooden spoon move the rice from the bottom up to the top. Do this several times. Do not stir (don't manhandle the rice!) Place a colander in the sink, and drain the rice. Here you have "Polow"- rice that's made to be enjoyed with meat or a stew. 

*We ground up some saffron (~2tbl) and added an ice cube to the plate it was on. Many Iranians use some warm water, but I have it on good authority that the ice cube is the more modern way to go. :) Either way, it gives the saffron a beautiful intense red color and that melted water/saffron mixture is what you will add to the potatoes (or even to some of the rice) to give it a nice light red color. 
saffron grinder

{If you are going on to make tahdig (and you so should) continue on with the potatoes. If not, continue to read with the zereshk.}

For the tahdig we used 2 red potatoes, washed and peeled. We sliced them in 1/4 inch rounds. In the same pot that you just drained the rice add some canola oil and then some saffron water. The color should be a nice red. Add the potatoes in a single layer, making sure to crowd them. 
Pour rice over and put the pot back on the stove. Add the 2tbl butter and about 4tbl or a good handful of warm water. Cover and adjust heat to medium high. Once you see a lot of steam coming through (or my friend's explanation "the pot is very, very hot" lower the heat. It's important to do this because regardless of whether or not you added potatoes, you do not want to burn anything on the bottom. We steamed for about 5 minutes before lowering the heat- almost to a simmer. We took the cover and wrapped it in a kitchen towel, then back on the pot it went. The rice should continue to simmer steam for about 30 minutes. 
For the zereshk: Allow the zereshk to soak for about 2 minutes in cold water. We want to make sure it is clean and all sediment is removed. Drain. In a small sauce pan, add the remaining 1tbl of butter. Adjust heat to medium high. Add the sugar. The butter/sugar combo smells divine! Add your zereshk and saute for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover. Let it rest. 

When your rice is done, scoop out about a cup or so and add to your zereshk in the saucepan. Add ~1tbl. saffron water. Mix. 
Arrange your rice, or polow, on a nice platter. Use the rice that has the zereshk in it and arrange on top of the bulk rice. You can make a nice design, like we did. Scoop out potatoes and arrange on a separate plate. Then, sit down and enjoy a nice Persian meal. Nooshe jaan! 



  1. Where did you buy your Saffron grinder, a friend of mine bought one from Iran but I need one myself and was hoping I can find one even on the internet.