There is perhaps no other culture that makes rice in as many creative, rich and flavourful ways as Persian food. Mastering these rice dishes is a sure-fire way of wowing people who haven’t tried Persian cuisine before. Such rice is typically served with stews such as with ghormeh sabzi (see our easy recipe), or meats. Basmati long-grain rice is used.
The key thing that distinguishes Persian rice is its tahdig, which means ‘bottom of the pot’. This is a delicious, crusty layer at the bottom of the pan that can be served separately, either evenly divided out or fought for. This means there is an extra stage to cooking Persian rice.
We’re going to give four different recipes here, all using the same way of creating the tahdig. That means you only really need to master one trick, and you’ll have four different dishes under your belt. But shh – you can also skip the step of creating the tahdig and simply boil the rice and mix any herbs or spices into it using the methods below. This is the super easy cheat option if you’re pressed for time. We won’t tell anyone.
Because of the tahdig, cooking Persian rice typically involves two stages. The first stage involves simply parboiling rice with salt. Wash the rice thoroughly to start with. After five minutes of boiling in ample water with salt, drain the rice and rinse it.
The next stage involves creating the tahdig layer and then steaming the rice for 45 minutes. There are several different types of tahdig.
We’re going to suggest doing the simplest version, which involves adding oil (two tablespoons) to the bottom of the pan and pressing a cup full of rice around the base of the pan. For a richer tahdig you can mix two tablespoons of yoghurt into the rice before spreading it around the base of the pan. Pro tip: make your life easier by using a non-stick pan.
There are also versions with potato, flatbread or spaghetti that are easy to read about online. You can even create a lettuce tahdig with herb rice (there is a link below).
Once you’ve created your tahdig layer, you can mix your herbs or spices into your rice using the methods described below, and add a final ¼ cup of hot water and two tablespoons of oil over the top of the rice. Then wrap the lid of the pot in a thin cloth, to let the rice steam on a medium-low heat – for 45 minutes.
Ingredients for basic tahdig and rice (serves 4)
- 2 cups of rice (available here)
- 4 tbsp oil
- Salt (for salted water)
- 2 tbsp yoghurt (optional)
Chelo (Persian rice)
Chelo is classic Persian steamed rice, often with saffron added. It is served with Kebab or any stews such as gormeh sabzi. Saffron can be used to give the rice colour and flavour. This dish makes use of saffron water – or ‘bloomed’ saffron, which has been dissolved in water so that in can be mixed into food. There are two ways of blooming saffron. For both, use ground saffron (either pre-ground, or threads ground yourself with a pestle and mortar). Take a ¼ of a teaspoon of ground saffron. Then to bloom it, you can either sprinkle it on an ice cube, or dissolve it in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Some say that using an ice cube brings out its flavour better.
You can use the saffron water by mixing it into half of your rice after it has steamed – creating a layer of white rice, a layer of saffron rice, and the tahdig over the top. So, first take half the rice and spread it across your dish. Then, take the next half and mix it with your saffron water and layer it over the top. Finally, you can take out the tahdig, cut it up and arrange it over the saffron rice.
- ¼ tsp ground saffron (for 2 tbsp saffron water) (available here)
Zeresk polo (rice with barberries)
Zeresk is Farsi for barberries. If you don’t know about barberries, these are tart red berries, which can add a delicious tangy flavour to a range of meals including rice, salads or even fritattas (kuku sabzi). Zeresk polo is a very easy making dish and yet delicious. It is often served with chicken in a tomato sauce.
If you already know how to make chelo, this recipe is super easy. You can use the same method as for chelo, but with the addition of colourful barberries over the top. Rinse some dried barberries, then lightly fry them for 3 minutes in two tablespoons of oil, 2-4 tablespoons of sugar (to taste), and also save a tablespoon of saffron water to add to the mix. They can then be arranged over the top and around the rice to create an extra sweet-sour flourish.
- ½ cup of barberries, rinsed (available here)
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp saffron water (from chelo recipe, above)
Sabzi polo (herb rice)
Sabzi is Farsi for herbs – so this is rice with herbs. To make this dish, you can use one of our incredibly convenient herb mixes. After creating the tahdig layer, simply mix the herbs and rice spice into the remaining rice, and allow to steam (add half a cup of water and 2 tablespoons of oil). If you are feeling adventurous, you could try creating a lettuce tahdig instead! Sabzi Polo with fish and Kuku is the traditional Persian New Year’s (Norowuz) dish.