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)
Vegetarian and gluten-free
- 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.