This rice pilaf called biryani is popular all over the Middle-East, especially in the Gulf countries and Iraq. In fact, one could easily write a book on biryanis, and how they are cooked all across Asia. My favorite method is Persian. For one, it is easy and versatile. Once all the components have been prepared ahead, cooking the rice is a breeze.
First thing to decide: What to combine with the rice? Dried fruits and nuts. What is an essential spice? Saffron and cardamom. And finally, meats, fowl or fish?
NOTE: It is important to use a nonstick pot to cook the rice in.
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 1 cup very thinly sliced orange rind (remove the white pulp entirely and boil a couple of times to tenderize and remove their bitterness)
- 1 cup dried cranberry or craisins
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (or other dried fruits like dates or figs)
- 1 cup almonds, toasted (or other nuts)
- 1 cup pistachios, peeled and sliced (or other nuts)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup clarified butter or oil
- 2 cups rice, preferably Basmati
- Spices: 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon saffron diluted in 1/4 cup of warm water and rose water.
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup yogurt (Greek-style)
1. In a saucepan, heat half the butter and stir-fry the carrots for a few minutes till softened and glistening. Add the rest of the ingredients, the sugar, and cover. Simmer very gently for about 5 minutes, then set aside.
2. Soak the rice after rinsing it in a large bowl filled with tap water and a pinch of salt. Drain it after 30 minutes and rinse it again. Place it in a pot with at least 8 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil and let the rice boil till al dente, about 6 minutes, no more. Drain the rice and set aside.
3. Heat the remaining butter in the pot. Add the saffron water and stir a few seconds. Mix 2 cups of rice with the yogurt and pat on the bottom of the pot. Mix the remaining rice with the spices and dried fruits and nuts and add to the pot. Pat the rice gently and with the handle of a wooden spoon, poke the rice in 4 places. Drizzle the rest of the butter and about 3/4 cup of water on the rice in the holes. Cover the rice with a large towel and the lid and place it over medium heat for 15 minutes. Lower the heat as much as possible and let the rice steam gently for another 40 minutes.
4. Place several cups of ice cubes in a large baking pan. Place the pot of rice on the ice cubes for 10 minutes. Invert the pot onto a serving platter. Serve the rice with meatballs or a Thanksgiving turkey or some shrimps grilled separately.
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