Saffron Jewelled Rice

As a pescetarian, vegetarian dishes are a substantial part of my diet, but when I need to feed a large number of people this is ideal, and is generally a crowd-pleaser. Because it’s one dish that’s fantastic to serve alone, with meat, or fish, it suits so many diets.  For our school Quiz Night {amazingly one of the highlights of the social calendar, as we’re all so laughably inept} I served it with Ottolenghi’s Saffron Chicken.

Jewelled rice is a Persian {Iranian} dish, usually saved for weddings and celebrations. Although mine is perhaps not the most authentic version, it seems there is no definitive recipe {or rather everyone thinks their version, is the definite version}.  I can’t even spot a consistent difference between the two names: Morasa and Javaher Polow – both seemingly meaning jewelled rice.

Amongst the dozens of recipes I’ve read, there appear to be two distinct variations: one which uses spices and saffron, and a whiter version which omits them.  Beyond that, I’ve seen every combination of ingredients and techniques.  A few remain common:  both nuts and dried fruit feature heavily, with the fruit usually being barberries. These are a sour berry not dissimilar to cranberries in appearance, but as I don’t always have them to hand, I’ve found dried physalis, and sour cherries to be a decent substitute.  The physalis particularly has a sour but plump effect.  The recipe which appealed to me the most came from the Amira site, and this is the one I’ve adapted.
Serves 8 comfortably

Ingredients:

600g long-grain basmati rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
300g dried fruit (I used cherries, physalis, cranberry and blueberry)
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60g unsalted butter
A few fine julienne of carrot
Zest of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
seeds from 8 cardamon pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
100g pistachios
seeds of a large pomegranate
Generous handful of parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Method:

  • Run the basmati under water in a sieve to remove the excess starch, and the cover with cold water, setting it aside to soak for an hour
  • Cover the saffron with three tablespoons of orange blossom water, and leave to steep
  • Add the dried fruit to a small bowl, and barely cover in boiling water, leave to steep
  • After 30 minutes, add the oil and half the butter to a frying pan and set over a low heat.  Add the spices and the shallot, and soften gently for 30 minutes until the shallots are barely caramalised.  Turn off the heat.
  • Drain the rice into a large saucepan, and pour boiling water over the rice, until it comes approximately 3cm above the rice.  On a medium heat, boil the rice for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water, draining well.
  • When cool, mix the basmati into the shallots, along with the carrot strips, orange zest, saffron infusion, the dried fruit, and their soaking water.  Season well with salt and pepper, and stir well.
  • Dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter
  • Using a wooden spoon handle, make 5-6 holes through the rice, allowing it to steam evenly
  • Take a large piece of baking paper, scrunch it up, and soak in a little water.  Shake off the excess, and lay over the rice {as a cartouche}.  Cover the pan tightly with a damp tea towel, or sheet of foil, and set over a low heat.  Cook, undisturbed, for 40 minutes.  By this time your rice will be fluffy and a buttery crust will cover the bottom
  • While the rice is steaming, toast the nuts in a dry pan until they begin to smell ‘nutty’.  Tip into a large bowl, and stir in the parsley, orange zest, garlic, carrot strips and pomegranate seeds
  • Once the rice has cooked, remove the paper, and stir through the nut and herb mixture.  Serve the caramelised rice (the tah-dig) over the top.

I combine this dish with Ottolenghi’s Saffron Chicken, which also contains cardamom and oranges {one of my favourite combinations, as I’m sure you will have realised!}.  The two dishes have a number of ingredients in common, and echo each other very successfully.  I also took along a selection of hummus, with pitta breads toasted with a little olive oil, parsley and dukkah.  Our portable pudding was a bento box of fruit, and a few riciarelli {which though Italian, are not hugely dissimilar to Middle Eastern nut treats}.  And no.  We did not win!

Do let me know what your favourite version of Jewelled Rice is!

Jewelled Rice

Jewelled Rice

Jewelled Rice

Jewelled Rice

Jewelled Rice and Orange Chicken

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