{Chelo} Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy Crust

Persian Crispy Rice 465 {Chelo} Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy CrustToday 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.
pin it button {Chelo} Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy Crust
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  1. says

    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!

  2. says

    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!

  3. emma says

    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!

  4. says

    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!

  5. Gayla says

    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?

  6. says

    @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!

  7. Cindy says

    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!

  8. M says

    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!

  9. AK says

    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!

  10. Lonna says

    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. :)

  11. Nilu says

    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).

  12. Parinaz says

    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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