Many people become extremely intimidated when it comes to making Persian rice. You have to trust me when I tell you it is really not a big deal (just don’t tell anyone Persian I said that!). All you need to do is to imagine that instead of making rice, you are making pasta. Most of us know how to make pasta; it is probably what you ate everyday when you went to college! You are going to cook this rice in boiling water with oil and salt, just like pasta. You are going to wait until the rice is “al dente” (when you bite a grain of rice it should still have a white dot in the middle), just like pasta. Do not overcook Persian rice or your reputation as a Persian cook will suffer! And last, you are going to drain it, just like pasta.
The only difference comes next: Persian rice has one cooking step that pasta doesn’t have. Persian rice gets steamed. Think of it this way—since this rice is fancy…it requires a “spa treatment.” What is the result when you pamper yourself at the sauna? A new you! What is the result when you treat your rice to a “spa treatment”? Each and every grain of rice becomes its own entity and a pearl from heaven! What is the best after-effect of a “spa treatment” for a woman? It makes her a better wife, a better mother—and a better cook! What is the best after-effect of a “spa treatment” for Persian rice? The most scrumptious, crunchy, golden crust: TADIG!
To make this rice you will need a colander—the smaller the openings the better; you don’t want your precious rice to slip out! Also, many Persian cooks wash and soak the rice as if it were dirty laundry…I am sorry, I keep my laundry in the basement and I don’t have time for all that soaking, so trust me when I tell you don’t need to do it!
The quantities in the recipe below might seem a lot, but considering that Persians breathe rice, it goes really fast. If you want to make a smaller quantity, try only 3 cups rice, 8 cups water, ¼ cup oil, and 1 tablespoon salt. Also, any basmati rice will do. I prefer using Deer brand but other brands, like Tilda, are also good. Basmati rice is also available in whole-grain brown; although is a little stickier it is absolutely delicious and healthful!
Tricks of the trade
Chelo cooks very quickly. Therefore, when I make Chelo, I always make sure to have a colander ready in the sink to drain the rice so I do not overcook it. Also, when you steam the rice by placing the paper towels between the lid and the pot, make sure these are safely away from the heat. After this rice is steamed it is important to tilt the lid to allow any extra steam to escape so that the crunchy bottom does not become soggy.
I often cook this rice on Thursday and have it ready to steam on Friday a few hours before Shabbat.
Part 1: Cooking the rice
- 5 cups basmati rice, checked and rinsed
- 12 cups water
- ½ cup canola oil
- 3 tablespoons salt
Part 2: Steaming the rice and making tadig
- ¼-inch canola oil poured into the bottom of the saucepan.
- 2 tablespoons water
- ¼ tsp turmeric or powdered saffron (optional, for a more authentic flavor)
To cook the rice
- Fill a large nonstick saucepan (at least 6 quarts) with 12 cups water; add oil and salt. Cover and bring to a brisk boil over high heat.
- Add the rice and continue cooking over medium to high heat, stirring occasionally.
- After 3–5 minutes, use a slotted spoon to scoop some grains from the water. Break one grain in half to make sure it is “al dente” (see above). Turn off the heat and pour rice into the colander to drain; set aside.
To steam and make tadig
- Place the empty 6-quart saucepan back onto the stovetop over medium heat. Add ¼-inch canola oil and 2 tablespoons water. Add turmeric and/or saffron powder. Stir together.
- Add the drained rice and shape it into a pyramid. Cover the pot and cook for 5–7 minutes until rice begins to steam.
- Uncover and place 2 paper towels (one on top of the other) over the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Replace the lid tightly.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and tilt the lid until ready to serve.
- With a wide spatula, scoop the rice from the pot, making sure to not disturb the crust (tadig) that formed on the bottom of the pot.
- Serve the rice on a flat serving platter, mounding it into the shape of a pyramid. Turn the tadig out onto a flat serving platter by inverting the pot, as you would invert a cake pan, or cut it into pieces and serve around the rice.
Yield: 8 servings
Optional garnish: Saffron Rice
- 1 cup steamed white rice
- 1 tablespoon saffron water (see below)
- To make saffron water, mix together 1 teaspoon crushed saffron threads and ¼ cup hot water. Steep for a few minutes, until the water becomes yellow.
- Mix saffron water with steamed white rice. Use this intensely yellow rice to make designs on the Chelo.
To reheat this rice: Pour ½ cup water mixed with ¼ cup canola oil onto the pyramid in a large pot. You can also freeze this rice, as long as you do not stir it until it is completely defrosted. You can even cook it, freeze it, and later steam it as it defrosts!
Yield: Up to 8 servings, depending on whether your guests are Persians!