An important note before we get into the recipe: As someone who frequently touts the importance of “culinary authenticity”, I hesitated for a moment before writing about this Persian Jewelled Saffron Rice. I’ve made food from all over the world, so why did naming this dish cause concern? This is my conclusion: The words Iranian and Persian are often used interchangeably to describe people from Iran. However, the terms Persian and Iranian do not necessarily mean the same thing. Some people draw a distinction in that Persian relates to a particular ethnicity, and being Iranian is a claim to a certain nationality. Thus, a person could be one without being the other. This makes political correctness harder to manage. In many ways, the word choice is a bit of a branding exercise. For the most part, we see the word “Iranian” used more in a news and politics context. However, the word “Persian”, and the feelings about the Ancient Kingdom it connotes, is seen more in the context of romance, poetry, literature, and vibrant food featuring saffron, pomegranate, warming spices and nuts. So, here we are.
My recipe for Jewelled Saffron Rice (chelo) is the cumulation of my recent studies into Persian cuisine, summarized in one colourful, one-pot dish. There are numerous versions of Persian rice dishes, each competing to be the most famous or the most beautiful. However, and at its core, most Persian rice dishes involve the following: finding a long-grain rice, soaking the rice, parboiling the rice, creating a crispy bottom (which is called in part or in whole, the tahdig), followed by a final steam to create a fluffy texture and harmony of flavours. Once you master this recipe, you can experiment with different ingredients and forms of plating.
It might be tempting to approach this dish in the same way you would another more familiar dish. For me, I had to fight hard not to cook the dish like a Chinese fried rice or an Italian risotto. It is decidedly not either of those things. With the use of Saffron and a crispy bottom, you may also be tempted to make it like a Spanish paella. It’s also not that. In this dish, the process is more important than the ingredients themselves. Believe me, I experimented with this rice five times before I finally learned my lesson (especially with respect to the drizzling of the saffron water). Be gentle and patient, and you will be rewarded.
The other important thing about this recipe is that I have designed it to be made in a Le Creuset Canada Round French Oven. It’s not to say that you couldn’t use a regular pot, but there are too many recipes out there which specifically instruct you not to use a Dutch Oven to make Persian rice. I think it is more accurate to say that you will not achieve a glass-like tahdig in a French/Dutch Oven (that would be made best in a Toughened Non-Stick pot). However, the beauty and appeal of the Round French Oven is that it makes this dish so efficient to make, and the even heat distribution and steam trapping means you don’t have to MacGyver your standard pot with a wet paper towel, or worry too much about burning. There is a reason why many people would choose this vessel as their “one thing” to take with them to a deserted island. Honestly, I would too.
By way of note, I have a 5.3 L Round French Oven in the colour Oyster, but a smaller 3.3 L or 4.2 L would also work very well for these quantities of ingredients. If you have one that’s larger than 5.3 L, I would double the quantity of each ingredient. And as for the plate? It’s a coupe pasta bowl in Sage from the new Le Creuset Canada Minimalist Dinnerware collection! What a beaut, right?
This dish is fun, beautiful, and looks very impressive on the table. It would work well as a side dish paired with roast lamb, stews, roast chicken, or mild curries. However, you could always enjoy it on its own for a light yet satisfying weeknight dinner.
Jewelled Saffron Rice
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 6 tbsp Kosher salt
- 6 tbsp clarified butter (ghee)
- 1 small white onion sliced thinly
- 2 piches saffron threads ground
- 1 tbsp freshly grated orange zest
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dried barberries can substitute dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp rosewater
- 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios
- 1 handful parsley or cilantro for garnish
- 1 handful pomegranate seeds for garnish
In a large Le Creuset French Oven, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add 3 tbsp kosher salt. At the same time, rinse the rice in a colander until the tap water runs clear. Add rice to boiling water, and stir continuously until the grains are parboiled (about halfway cooked, about 5 minutes). Lightly drain and set aside.
Prepare 3 small bowls. In the first, pour ½ cup just-boiled water over saffron threads to soak. In the second, combine rosewater with the raisins. In the third, combine cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, orange zest, apricots and barberries (or cranberries), and a pinch of salt.
In a small non-stick skillet or pan, lightly toast the almonds and pistachios with 1 tbsp of butter. Set aside.
Add another 1 tbsp of butter to the skillet and sautée the onion with a little bit of salt and a tsp of the saffron water. Add in the remaining contents of the two other small bowls (fruits and spices) and stir well to combine.
Going back to the French Oven, bring to medium heat, and melt the rest of the butter to coat the bottom of the pot. Spread half of the parboiled rice over the bottom, followed by half of the onion-fruit-spice mixture, and then the remaining rice. Leave uncovered and cook for 5-8 minutes.
Drizzle the remaining saffron water over the rice and put on the lid. Turn the heat to low and leave on the stove for 30 minutes undisturbed. Top with almonds, pistachios, parsley and pomegranate, or other suitable nuts and fruits of your choice.
Please note: This recipe was made in partnership with Le Creuset Canada. All affiliate links on this page go towards supporting the blog and do not otherwise affect your use of the site, or the Le Creuset Canada site, whatsoever.