Herb & Saffron Pilaf
In Iran, spring's arrival is celebrated with the New Year festival, No Rooz. This colorful, fragrant dish is an essential component of the New Year's table, and is also served on other festive occasions. It is most beautiful when prepared with fresh herbs, but if these are unavailable, dried herbs (or a combination of dried and fresh) may be used.
Total time: 2¾-4-½ hours
Rinsing and soaking: 1-¼-3 hours
Final preparation: 1-½ hours
6 cups rice (3 lbs.)
½ cup salt (for soaking)
1 gallon water
4 tbsp. salt (for boiling)
2-¼ lbs. mixed fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, dill, chives, scallions, or spinach)
1 tbsp. garlic shoots, finely chopped
½ tsp. ground fenugreek seeds
½ cup butter (for pan bottom)
¼ tsp. saffron
2 tbsp. water
¼ cup butter (for garnish)
Cook the rice in the same manner as chelou: Wash the rice thoroughly in three changes of cold water to remove excess starch. Turn it into a large bowl, sprinkle over ½ cup salt, and let it soak for 1-3 hours to prevent breakage. Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a pot large enough for the grains to have plenty of room to roil around. Drain the rice and add it and 4 tablespoons salt to the pot; boil vigorously, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the rice. Test a grain by biting it in half; if it just barely cooked at the core, it is done. Remove the rice from the heat, drain it and gently rinse it with warm water. Take care not to break the rice grains. If the rice needs more salt, give it another rinse with warm salted water.
While the rice is soaking, wash and remove stems from the herbs, Shake the herbs dry and chop them finely.
When the rice is ready, melt the butter in a large flame-proof casserole dish, and turn it around in order to coat the sides. Sprinkle a layer of rice on the bottom, followed by a layer of one-third of the herbs, more rice, more herbs, more rice, the rest of the herbs, and a top layer of rice, forming a mound in the center of the dish. Poke several deep holes in the mound so that steam may escape.
Place a clean dishtowel over the top of the pot to absorb excess moisture. Cover the pot tightly and bake the rice for 45 minutes. Final-stage steaming may also be done on the stovetop. Cover the pot tightly with a dishtowel and the lid, then turn up the heat until the rice just begins to steam. Lower the heat and continue to steam for 45 minutes.
Dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons water and set aside.
Remove the pot from the oven or stovetop and place it, still covered, on a cool, wet surface for 10 minutes. While the pot is cooling, melt the butter. After 10 minutes, remove the lid from the pot, toss the polou gently, and dish it out onto a serving platter in a mound. Remove the bottom crust to a separate serving plate. Sprinkle the saffron water, then the butter over the polou, and serve.
from Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook