This recipe is based on the classic Persian dish, Javaher Polow, or “jewelled rice”, an opulent dish of fluffy rice, sweet and tangy fruits and crunchy nuts. It’s traditionally served at weddings and celebrations. Each of the ingredients represents a precious jewel; berries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds. The dish is a symbol of wishing sweetness and wealth for the newly married couple – of course it was on my wedding menu last year!
So when the people at Amira rice contacted me to ask if I’d like to try their recipe, I was instantly reminded of happy, delicious memories and had to say yes. The recipe on the Amira website is not totally authentic (traditionally you’d use zereshk/barberries not cranberries, for example) but I was really pleased with the outcome, so it’s a good one to keep hold of particularly if you live in an area where sourcing Middle Eastern ingredients may be a challenge.
The buttery golden crust that develops on the bottom of the pan, “tahdig“, is the best bit – to be able to turn out a perfect crust in one clean motion is a good sign that you’re marriage material (phew – I passed the test!)
Using high quality rice is really important – please don’t assume that all rice is the same because that’s just not true. You will notice the difference if you source properly aged rice – ordinarily I would always go for basmati for the exceptional fragrance, but Amira’s “Superior Aromatic” is not basmati yet still has the fragrance, nuttiness and and the extra long grains you would expect from the best quality rice.
300g high quality rice such as Amira Superior Aromatic Rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
150 g dried cranberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60 g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
Seeds picked from 1 large pomegranate
Generous bunch of parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
Add rice to a sieve and rinse under running water. Tip into a bowl and cover well with cold water. Set aside to soak for 1 hour. Add the saffron to a small heatproof glass and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then set aside to soak. Add the cranberries to a small heatproof bowl and cover in boiling water, set aside to soak.
Add the oil and half the butter to a deep frying pan and set over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and cumin and fry gently for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly caramelised, then turn off the heat.
Drain your rice and add to a large saucepan. Pour over boiling water so it comes a generous 3 centimetres above the rice and set over a medium high heat. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water to cool and drain well. The rice will have started to cook but will still have plenty of bite and the grains will not yet be fluffy.
Combine the cooled rice with the onions, along with the saffron, cranberries and their soaking water. Stir well but be careful not to break the grains of rice, which would make them stodgy and starchy – you want separate, elegant grains! Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5-6 holes through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan – this helps it to steam evenly.
The recipe instructions said: “tear off a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up under cold running water, shaking off the excess, then lay snugly over the surface of the rice. Cover the pan tightly with a layer of foil and set over a very low heat.”
I did what I’ve always done to achieve a perfect tahdig: wrap the lid of your saucepan in a tea towel to ensure a snug fit, so no precious steam escapes. Pomegranate pattern optional!
Cook for 40 minutes on a very low heat, after which time your rice will be fluffy and a delicious buttery crust will have developed on the bottom.
While your rice is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Tip into a bowl and stir through the pomegranate seeds, parsley, orange zest and garlic. Set aside.
Once your rice is ready, remove the lid, place a large platter on top and in one swift, brave movement, flip the pan upside down. Your rice should slide out in a cloud of fragrant steam. Ta da!
(If you’re not feeling brave, you can scoop the rice out onto your serving dish and then scrape the lovely crunchy caramelised rice from the base of the pan to arrange over the top.)
Enjoy! We ate ours with chicken thighs cooked simply with diced onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper over a medium heat, with sides of salads, yoghurt, and my mum’s torshi (Persian pickle) – keep meaning to post the recipe here, bear with me.
I was sent Amira rice to sample and review and will definitely be buying it in future! Amira rice is stocked at selected Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose stores.