For this month’s International Cooking Challenge, our host Savitha Ramesh @ Savitha’s Kitchen has taken us on a culinary tour of Persia/ Iran. Iranian cuisine or Persian cuisine refers to the traditional and modern styles of cooking related to Iran. Situated in the Middle East, the Iranian culinary style is unique to Iran, but it has been influenced by Iran’s neighbouring regions at various stages throughout its history.
Many foods famously associated with Middle Eastern, and indeed World cuisine have their origins in Iran, such as kebab and ice cream. Fresh green herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Typical Persian main dishes are combination of rice with meat, lamb, chicken, or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic Persian flavorings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.
I made this very flavorful and colorful Iranian Jeweled Rice. It is sweet, nutty and very aromatic. I’m lucky to live in an area that is close to good Turkish/ middle eastern groceries and I have access to good quality ingredients. I bought orange blossom water on one of my so-called ‘window’ shopping days, which was put to good use in this recipe.
This dish is truly a fruit of love. It should not be made when you have a toddler waiting on you to be taken care of or when you have to urgently pick up your injured son from school. This dish needs some serious one-on-one time. It took me about 3~4 rounds to actually grasp what was written in the recipe because there are a lot of steps and ingredients. I will try and break it down, so it is easy to follow the recipe. I scaled the recipe down to th third of the original recipe since I was making only for me and my 18 month old. Even with all the aforementioned distractions, I enjoyed making this dish while the little one was busy munching on the nuts and carrots. All in all, it is a great dish and is totally worth the time spent in making it.
Prep the Rice: Wash and drain the rice well. Soak the rice with 1tsp salt for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Prep the Orange: Peel the orange using a peeler into thick strips, it's OK to get a little bit of the white pith. Then, chop the peel into thin slivers. Boil some water in a small saucepan, add the slivers and boil for 1 minute. Then drain and rinse with cold water. This is supposed to remove the bitterness from the orange rind.
Make Orange blossom-Saffron water: In a mortar and pestle, grind saffron with a pinch of sugar into a powder. Stir in 2tsp of orange blossom water.
Prep the Dry Fruits: In a saute pan; heat 1tsp oil and add the almonds and pistachios. Saute until the nuts are golden, add the raisins and cook until raisins plump up. Remove into a small bowl, add the cranberries and set aside.
Prep the Carrots: Heat 2tsp orange blossom water, 1tsp oil, and 1tsp sugar in the same saute pan; add carrots and the orange slivers, mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, remaining saffron-orange blossom water, cinnamon stick and ground cinnamon and cook for 1 more minute. Next add ½cup of water, bring the mixture a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15~20 minutes until the syrup thickens and the carrots are slightly caramelized. Drain the carrots and orange peel and reserve the syrup.
Prep the Rice: Bring a large pan of water to boil along with the remaining 1tsp of salt, once the water comes to a boil, add the rice and the remaining orange blossom water. Boil until the rice starts to float and is 70% cooked through, about 6~8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Turn it out into a bowl. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Gently stir in the reserved carrot/ orange syrup and the remaining 2tsp orange blossom water into the rice.
Take a large spoonful of rice at a time and gently spread it over the bottom of the pot. Give the pot a shake to even out the base. Add more spoonfuls of rice, one at a time, gradually shaping it into a pyramid.
Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel and close with the lid. This will prevent the steam from escaping. Cook for 15~20 minutes on very low flame until cooked through.
To Serve: Spread the rice on a platter, top with the sweet carrot & orange peel mixture and the nuts. Enjoy!!