{Chelo} Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy Crust

by Alice Currah on May 17, 2010

Today I’m excited to have my friend, Michael Natkin, of Herbivoracious guest post on Savory Sweet Life.  His recipes are not only stunning to look at, he makes a vegetarian lifestyle very tempting for a carnivore like me to cross over.  Although Michael works at Adobe, he has also worked in some of Seattle’s finest restaurants including a recent two week internship at Canlis restaurant.  Today he shares a wonderful recipe for Persian rice pilaf called Chelo.  Thank you Michael!

One of the great things about food blogging is the opportunity to meet other people in the community who share that passion. I’ve known Alice for about a year now, and been amazed at how quickly she’s built a tremendous following for Savory Sweet Life with her beautiful, delicious and approachable home cooked food. I’m honored to exchange guest posts with Alice and introduce our readers to each other.

Just about every culture that cooks rice has a crispy variation, whether it is the beloved crust on the bottom of the Spanish paella, fried rice in Chinese cuisine, or Indian bhel puri (a snack of crispy puffed rice, potatoes and chutney). For Persians, the basic basmati rice pilaf with a crust is called chelo, and the crust itself is tahdig.

Although it is a bit more work than just tossing rice in the rice cooker and pushing the button, I think you will find the result more than worth the extra effort. You do need to have the forethought to soak the grain for a couple hours in advance.

The crust on the bottom of the pot can be encouraged with a mixture of yogurt and egg, or a layer of sliced potatoes, or even flatbread. I’ve opted for the yogurt and egg approach in today’s recipe, which is based on the method explained in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s wonderful Seductions of Rice.

I’m crazy about herbs in my rice, especially dill. Persians use copious quantities of herbs, sometimes even treating them like a vegetable. Layering them into this pilaf makes it even tastier.

Omnivores could serve this forth with kebabs, or try this vegetarian eggplant stew. A simple, lemony salad of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes makes a refreshing and you’ve got a great meal.

Chelo (Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy Crust)
Serves 6
Vegetarian and gluten-free

  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt beaten with 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh dill + a sprig for garnish
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1 teaspoon saffron crumbled into 2 tablespoons of hot water (optional)
  1. In a 5 quart Dutch oven or other good sized pot with a tight-fitting lid, soak the rice for at least 2 hours in plenty of water with 1/4 cup of salt. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Bring 1 gallon of fresh water to a boil (in the same pot) with 1 tablespoon of salt and boil the rice for 2-5 minutes until it is mostly tender but has a slight bit of bite left in the center. Drain and rinse with warm water.
  3. Return the pot to a medium-high flame and melt the butter. Stir 1/2 cup rice into the yogurt/egg mixture. Spread that mixture over the butter, which should immediately start sizzling.
  4. Mound the rest of the rice on top, layering in the herbs. Poke a few holes in the mound to allow steam to move. Cover the pot with a tea towel and the lid (making sure the towel can’t catch on fire!). Lower the heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes. Taste a few grains to make sure they are fluffy. Use a fork to check that the crust has formed. If not, raise the heat for a couple of minutes.
  5. Scoop most of the rice out to a serving platter. Mix 1 cup of the rice with the saffron mixture and layer that on top of the plain rice (or mix it in if you prefer). Double check the crust and again, if not fully formed, cook it more. It should be deep brown, as in the picture above.
  6. Lower the bottom of the pot with the crust into a sink of cool water for a minute, which will help the crust release. Use a spatula to break off the beautiful crispy pieces in big shards and lay them over the saffron rice. Finish with a bit of salt and a big sprig of dill.
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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ How Sweet May 17, 2010 at 6:39 am

I’ve only ever got a crust on the bottom when I’ve burnt something..haha. But it is usually pretty delicious and I’m sure this will be, too.

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Sarah May 17, 2010 at 7:43 am

fantastic! knowing how to make tahdig is the first step to becoming an honorable Persian :-)

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Ehsan June 23, 2014 at 5:34 am

So true :-) Chelo without tahdig is lame.

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LoveFeast Table May 17, 2010 at 8:10 am

I”m looking forward to trying this recipe! Thank you!

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Julia May 17, 2010 at 8:31 am

I love using leftover rice to make ricecakes, one of my favorite breakfasts my mom made! Those have crispy outsides, so I can just imagine how good this is!

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DessertForTwo May 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

Oh.my.gosh. I used to have a Persian friend growing up and I would LOVE eating at their house when his mom made this. This is truly the best rice dish that has ever passed my lips. Thanks for sharing the secret recipe!!! I can’t wait to try it!

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emma May 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

That sounds amazing! My hubby and I have recently been trying to eat strictly vegetarian durring the week, and i’ve started a little blog to document everything. This will be such a help to me in our quest to be healthy, and live a far more sustainable life while eating less animal products!

I would love if you could visit my blog. Any suggestions or hints are always soo appreciated!

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roxan May 17, 2010 at 11:51 am

Great dish, thanks for sharing!

Koreans also have a couple variations on the crispy rice – it’s called noo-roong-ji. Sometimes you just sprinkle some sugar on the crispy rice and eat it as a treat. It also is a byproduct of dishes that are served in hot stone pots for an extra crispy treat at the end. Whenever I get a dish that has rice in a stone pot, I push the rice against the pot to get even more crispy rice!

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Maria May 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I love the crispy crust!

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Michael Natkin May 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Oh yes, how I could forget to mention the crispy rice on the bottom of dolsot bi bim bap! That is one of my favorite things to eat.

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Gayla May 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

do you think the yogurt actually needs to be whole fat? Does that change something in the chemistry of the recipe or just the flavor?

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Michael Natkin May 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm

@Gayla – I said whole milk because that is what I tested with, and I don’t want to send anyone down a stray path. That said, if anything, non-fat has more protein per ounce, which is what causes the delicious browning reactions, so it might work fine. You’d be losing a little bit of lubrication, but hopefully there is enough butter there to allow the crust to release. 2% might be a good compromise. If you try it, let us know!

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J May 17, 2010 at 11:06 pm

this looks amazing – i can’t wait to try it! thanks!!!

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Cindy May 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

My neighbor is Persian and we all love it when she makes chelo. My sons love, love, love the tahdig part. She is always a bit vague about how she makes it. I am thrilled to have a recipe to work from to try to duplicate hers. Thanks!

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Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen May 17, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Sounds delicious, I am not usually a rice person, but Persian rice is a whole other story!

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Azita May 19, 2010 at 1:59 am

this tah dig looks very tasty and I almost smell the saffron. this is the best part of any Persian rice dish!

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Jennifer @ maple n cornbread May 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Ive never had rice like this before but I LOVE crispy crusts on just about anything! Def need to give this a try!

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Jenipher May 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Wow this sounds great! :D

I love when foods are crispy, but ive never had crispy rice.

Smiles to you!

Jenipher

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M June 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Ah, just the sight of that photo brought back so many memories. My father is Persian, and before we had such luxuries as a rice cooker, we would have rice made like this on the stovetop every night. The tadiq was always my favorite part. We also had a version with layers of potatoes and chicken called tacheen – DELICIOUS.

FYI – the mention of the tea towel was what made me nod and go, “Yep, that’s authentic!” :)

Thank you so much for sharing!

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alice June 4, 2010 at 5:20 pm

So nice to have someone authenticate it! Thanks!

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Tracy December 10, 2012 at 3:29 am

Do you know where I can get a copy of the recipe with chicken + potatoes? I Love Persian Food + have worked for many. many families as a Baby Nurse for over 30 years.

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AK July 5, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Amazing!! I used to date a Persian guy and it was awkward to ask for his mom’s recipe for this after we broke up – so I’ve been looking for it ever since. So happy! Thanks!

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Lonna August 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Oh, thank you for the recipe! I have a friend who has since moved away, but when she lived close, her dad would make this rice with bademjon (sp?) with lamb stew and some type of greens with kidney beans, I believe. Anyway, it was all so good. Everytime I went there, this was the meal, with some slight variation. Would they have put sour cherries in this rice, or another?

I would love any other Persian recipes – the food is amazing!

I actually make an eggplant and lamb stew which is similar, but am so happy to see this rice. Thank you. :)

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Nilu November 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm

My mom puts lettuce leaves, eggplant skin to make a decorative design, or once even a whole fish as part of the tahdig. One hint, generally the rice is considered ready after the boiling stage when the first grains start bubbling up to the top of the water.

The dish with the kidney beans is called Ghormet Sabzi. One of the most delicious foods that exist – but time consuming to make (like most Persian foods).

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Parinaz May 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm

hi dear :) i’m from Iran, I was looking for chocolate chip cookies then i find your blog, you know this recipe is for food which name is TAHCHEEN…doesn’t have egg and yogurt…I can help you for more Persian food recipes…so let me know if you wanted…

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Tracy December 10, 2012 at 3:32 am

Do you know where your recipe for the eggplant + lamb stew can be found?

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Morgan October 30, 2014 at 11:03 pm

I’ve been seeing a lot of Persian food recently, it all looks really cool. I love the idea of a crispy crust. Really cool spin!

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