FOOD

How Iranians Make Rice The Best Part Of Every Meal

'It's the ultimate in crunchy golden goodness -- somewhere between fried chicken and popcorn.'

01/02/2017 6:57 AM AEDT
Sara Remington

In response to the Muslim ban, one way for us to navigate these times is to educate ourselves ― to learn what we can about the cultures of the nations that are affected. We’re starting small, with a simple dish from Iran that everyone can make at home. After all, food is the distillation of community and culture to its most basic form. We hope you’ll cook along with us in support. 

James Ransom/Food52
A perfect, crispy disk of tahdig that you won't be able to stop eating. Check out Food52's version of the recipe and step-by-step photos.

Some of the best dishes are the simplest, and that couldn’t be more true when talking about tahdig, Iran’s famous rice dish. If you love the crunchy, well-cooked edge of a lasagna, you’ll adore tahdig. 

Tahdig, which literally translates to “bottom of the pot,” is a pan-fried layer of crunchy, crispy white basmati rice. It can be served whole, maintaining the circular shape of the vessel it was cooked in, or broken into pieces of irresistible crunchy rice. It’s usually cooked in clarified butter (ghee) or oil, but to form a better crust, you can add yogurt, or lavash, or sometimes ―- for a really special treatment ― potatoes are used to line the bottom of the pan.

While tahdig refers to the burnt crust of the rice, the preparation and serving of it also includes rice that is perfectly steamed on top of this crisp layer, as you’ll find in the recipe below. It’s pure and simple genius. It’s also an absolutely soul satisfying way to eat rice. 

Anyone who has anything to say about tahdig will say this: when the dish is served at a feast, it is always guaranteed to be finished. Everyone loves it. Louisa Shafia, author of The New Persian Kitchen, says it best when she suggests that we “think of tahdig as Persian ‘soul food.’ It’s the ultimate in crunchy golden goodness ― somewhere between fried chicken and popcorn ― and making it is a skill worth perfecting.”

While tahdig is almost always part of a feast, it isn’t reserved for special occasions. In Iran, it is eaten whenever rice is part of a meal, which is often. Once you try it, you’ll see why. We have a recipe for you. If you have rice, you can easily make this dish happen tonight.

Here it is.

Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen, by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

Basic Tahdig

makes 5-1/2 cups rice plus one 10-inch disk of tahdig

  • 2 cups white basmati rice
  • 3 tablespoons refined coconut oil, ghee, or grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for salting the water

Step 1: Parcook the rice

Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Swish the rice around a few times, then drain and rinse the rice in cold water until the rinse water runs clear. In a stockpot, combine 8 cups water and 2 heaping tablespoons salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice and return to a boil, uncovered, as it can easily boil over. After 5 minutes, test a grain of the rice by breaking it in half. The rice is ready when it’s soft but the center is still opaque and not fully cooked. Drain and rinse the rice under cold water to stop the cooking. Measure out 2 cups rice and set aside.

Step 2: Make the tahdig layer

Heat a deep 10-inch cast-iron skillet or enamel paella pan over low heat for a few minutes. Add the oil (if your skillet is bigger than 10 inches, add an additional 2 tablespoons oil), followed by the 2 cups reserved rice. Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan, and pack it down tightly with an offset spatula or large wooden spoon. Sprinkle the sea salt over the rice.

Step 3: Shape the rice into a pyramid and cook

Add the rest of the rice to the pan and shape it into a pyramid. Poke several holes in the rice with a chopstick to let steam escape. Cover and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook the rice for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to very low and place a clean dish towel under the lid to catch condensation, and cover the pan tightly. If you have a flame tamer, put it between the burner and the bottom of the skillet to disperse the cooking heat. Cook for 50 minutes.

Step 4: Separate the rice from the tahdig and serve

Lift the lid from the pan. There will be condensation trapped under the lid, so avoid tilting it over the rice and inadvertently pouring the steam water back in. Gently scoop the rice onto a serving platter, making sure not to disturb the tahdig at the bottom. Loosen the sides of the tahdig with a butter knife and flip it onto a plate, or remove it from the pan with an offset spatula. Serve whole or broken in pieces.

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