I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my religious beliefs because that’s not the purpose of this journal. However, I am very passionate about rice and proper rice cookery, and my religious beliefs play an intricate role in my rice passion.
As a member of the Baha’i faith, celebrating Ayyám-i-Há is a crucial part of our calendar. The Baha’i calendar has 19 months of 19 days, and the days of Ayyám-i-Há (4 or 5 days, depending upon whether or not it’s a leap year) are intercalary days which serve to synch up the Bahai 19/19 calendar with the 365 (or 366) day solar calendar.
I always explain Ayyám-i-Há as a sort of Baha’i Christmas- it’s a time of fellowship and goodwill with loved ones. However, it’s really much more than that- while gifts and gift giving are an accepted custom, they are not really the purpose of Ayyám-i-Há . In my personal life, Ayyám-i-Há is a period of preparation before I enter The Fast, which is the 19th month of the Baha’i Calendar. During The Fast, Baha’i’s do not consume any liquid or food from sun-up to sundown- it’s a period of purification, meditation, and spiritual rebirth before Naw-Ruz,literally meaning “New Year”.
What better way to celebrate before a fasting period than by preparing your favorite food?
Rice is a key element in Persian cuisine and, since I’m obsessed with food, Ayyám-i-Há is an excellent study of food culture and the community created by the consumption and preparation of food. Like any one who was raised in a tightknit community, I grew up with a vast yet incredibly tight and VERY diverse extended family. Just as important to me as any biological family member, my Persian “aunties” and “uncles” taught me countless lessons about the best way to properly cook Persian rice.
While everyone has a different method, the universal “most important part” is the tadigh. Meaning “bottom of the pan”, tadigh is probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted- by allowing the rice to cook (uninterrupted) (low and slooooow), the oils used to cook the rice will create a delicious rice “crust” on the bottom of the pot. This crust is a freaking delicacy. Sometimes people put slices of potato underneath the rice and let those get crispy, too- with or without added extras, tadigh is buttery, delicious, and irresistible.
It’s also REALLY DIFFICULT TO COOK PROPERLY. I’ve spent several years trying to properly make Persian rice with some very interesting (code for ‘disastrous’) results. However, I’ve finally crafted a fairly fool-proof method of making pretty perfect Persian Rice. Your tadigh will turn out buttery, crunchy, and scrumptious, and each individual rice grain will leave you moaning with happiness.
(did ‘moaning’ take it a little too far?)
Fool-Proof Persian Rice With Tadigh
NOTE: All of these steps should be followed to the letter, or you will NOT have perfect Persian rice. You were warned.
Yield: A Little Over Four 1-Cup Servings
1 1/2 cup Dry Basmati Rice
(My understanding is that it’s very common to substitute Basmati rice for traditional Persian rice. Basmati rice is actually an Indian rice, and it’s really perfect in this recipe. When cooked, the long grains of Basmati rice will stay perfectly separate from one another- not gummy and sticky)
1/4 cup Butter
(I never said this was healthy.)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
(Again- Never said it was healthy)
1 tbsp Salt
2 1/4 cup Water
(A Good Rule of Thumb? Use 1 1/2 cup of Water per 1 cup of rice)
You Will Also Need:
A Medium Non-Stick Saucepan with a Matching Lid
(SO IMPORTANT- if you don’t have one, borrow one from your neighbor, roommate, parent, whoever. Or buy one– you’ll be glad you did. )
A Clean dishtowel or a Single Paper Towel
The stages of Rinsing
1. Rinse your rice thoroughly 7-8 times, until the water is clear.
(This is probably the single most important step in your rice cooking process. Basmati rice- well, rice in general- is extremely starchy. Rinsing will help remove some of the starch, making it somewhat healthier. Simply pour water 1-2 inches above the rice, stir gently with your fingers, pour into the sink, and repeat. Again, DO NOT SKIP OR SCRIMP on this step.)
2. Combine your rice, water, butter, oil, and salt in your saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered.
(While the amount of added oil and butter I use is slightly unorthodox, this is the best method I’ve found to producing a perfect layer of tadigh. I’m sure you can find recipes that use less oil, but they may not be as foolproof as this one.)
3. Once the rice has absorbed most of the water and the water level has reduced to just below the rice grains, reduce heat to low and cover with matching lid. The pot lid should be wrapped in a dish towel or guarded by a paper towel.
(If rinsing is the most important step, covering and reducing is a very close ‘second most important’ step. The rice will steep like this for awhile, and the combination of heat and liquid creates a lot of condensation within the pot. If this condensation gets in your dish, you will have mushy rice. Therefore, the dish towel or paper towel creates a barrier, collects the liquid, and saves your rice from mush city. If using a paper towel, simply put it on top of the pot and gently set the lid atop the paper. If using a dish towel, wrap the lid in the towel, tuck the ends of the towel into the handle, and set the lid atop the pot. I’ve seen many people use the paper towel method with great results- in my opinion, paper towels are more of a fire hazard than cloth dish towels wrapped tightly around handles. Choose whichever method works best for you, but I will almost always use the dishtowel method.)
See, it’s wearing a little hat!
4. Allow rice to cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
(Don’t peek. Don’t even think about peeking. Even when your apartment/house is filled with the delicious aroma of fragrant rice perfume and you’re salivating with desire- DON’T FREAKING PEEK.)
5. Don an oven mit. Turn off stove, remove lid, and place a serving platter/dinner plate on top of the pot. Flip the pot upside down onto the serving platter and carefully shimmy it upward to release your rice.
TA-DAH! Does it look like a cake? YES. The most delicious cake you’ve ever had in your life. The “pot shimmy” might take a few tries in order to master, but just keep trying- you’ll get it right.
The golden crust of the tadigh surrounds the fluffy rice- I use a cake slicer to cut my tadigh and serve it in slices. You know, like a cake.
Because my lovely girlfriend can smell my Persian rice cooking from a mile away, I decided to make a simple tofu stirfry with bell peppers as the perfect match for the perfect rice.
Happy Ayyám-i-Há, yall!