Persian Rice

Well worth the effort. It feels odd to spend at least as much time, effort, and care on the rice as I would on the “main” dish – but then a fine serving of rice lifts an ordinary meal to another level.

Just for interest – Arto der Haroutunian quotes a Western traveller’s description of the meticulous preparation of this “jewel” of Iranian cuisine.

“The Iranian housewife goes through 14 steps to make a bowl of chelo, crusty steamed rice. Starting with two and a half cups of good long-grain rice, she washes it and rinses it three times in lukewarm water. She soaks it overnight, covered, in heavily salted water. The next day she sets four quarts of water to boiling with two tablespoons of salt, and adds the drained, soaked rice in a stream. She boils the rice for 10-15 minutes, stirring it once or twice, then puts it in a strainer and rinses it with lukewarm water. Next she melts half a cup of butter, and puts a third of it in a cooking pot, to which she adds two tablespoons water. She spoons the boiled rice into the pot so as to make a cone, and pours the rest of the butter evenly over it. She covers the pot with a folded tea towel, to make the rice cook evenly, and then puts on the lid. She cooks it for 10-15 minutes over a medium heat, and for 45 more minutes over a low heat. She places the pot in cold water, to make the rice come free from the bottom of the pan. She turns it out so that the golden crust on the bottom, which is the specific asset that makes Iranian rice the world’s best, flecks and accents the whole fluffy mound of distinctly separate grains. She puts 2 or 3 tablespoons of rice into a dish and mixes in a tablespoon of saffron. She pours the coloured rice over the rest, and she is done.”

Eat your heart out, Uncle Ben.

Anyways – here’s Arto der Haroutunian’s recipes for Chelo (“Plain White Rice”) and Chelo Ta Dig (Crusty White Rice); just a little simpler.

Incidentally, I love this blog – Turmeric and Saffron


  • 2 cups/250g/9oz long grain rice (Basmati, please), washed several times under running cold water and drained
  • salt – more than you would think
  • 50g/2oz butter, melted


  • Place the rice in a deep bowl, add 1 tablespoon salt and enough cold water to cover by 2.5 cm/1 inch. Leave to soak for at least 2 hours – or better, overnight.
  • Bring about 2 litres/1¾ pints of water with another 1 tablespoon salt to the boil in a heavy saucepan with a close fitting lid.
  • Drain the rice thoroughly from its soaking water, and pour it slowly into the saucepan so that the water doesn’t go off the boil. Boil for 4 minutes, and then drain into a sieve.
  • Clean the pan, and pour in ½ cup water and half the melted butter. Add the part-cooked rice, piling it in a cone shape; poke four holes to the bottom of the cone with a wooden spoon handle. Pour the remaining butter over the top.
  • Cover the pan with a tea towel, fit on the lid, and steam over a very low heat for about 20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender, fluffy, and above all, separate.
  • Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

  • Mix in a generous handful of finely chopped dill leaves to make a perfect base for anything from simply baked sardines, to a lot more sophisticated.

For Chelo Ta Dig

  • Mix 75ml/3oz yoghurt with ½ tsp saffron and 75g/3oz par-boiled rice, and spread it over the bottom of the sucepan before adding the rest of the rice.
    • OR – mix 75g/3oz of the par-boiled rice with 1 egg yolk, and spread it as above.
  • Cook as for the Chelo, but steam for an extra 15-20 minutes to create the crusty, crunchy “ta dig”.
  • To serve, turn out on to a serving plate, so the “ta dig” is simply on top. Or pile the cooked rice on the plate, break up the “ta dig” into small pieces and arrange on the rice.

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