For the past year I’ve been writing The New Persian Kitchen, a cookbook inspired by Persian cuisine, so I’ve been cooking a lot of rice. In Iran, once known as “Persia,” rice is the main starch, and much like pasta in Italy, Iranian cooks have turned its preparation into an art form.
As comforting and delicious as plain rice can be, there are countless ways to embellish this simple grain, and in Iranian cuisine you’ll find it baked into the shape of a crisp and savory pie, added to ground meat to form toothsome meatballs, and made into a sweet pudding flavored with cardamom and rosewater.
But Persian rice is most famous for fluffy, jewel-toned piles of pilaf-style rice mixed with all manner of nuts, fruits, and spices. To give you a sense of how Iranians like to riff on rice, here is a sampling of classic Iranian rice dishes:
-Rice cooked with fava beans and dill
-Rice cooked with sour cherries and almonds
-Rice cooked with lentils, lamb, and potatoes
-Rice cooked with orange peel, nuts, raisins, and barberries (dried sour berries)
-Rice cooked with shrimp and tomatoes
Many of the above dishes call for seasonings such as saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, and onions, providing subtle and exotic flavoring.
I hope you’re starting to get the picture, that rice can be combined with any of your favorite ingredients, including veggies, nuts, fruit, herbs, and meat. To make your own Persian-style rice, start with basmati rice (available at natural, Indian, and Iranian markets), and cook it according to the instructions. Ideally, the cooked rice should be dry and fluffy. In a separate pan, cook the accompanying ingredients, and when it’s time to serve, fold everything together, and season to taste.
Persian-Style Rice with Carrots, Walnuts, and Raisins
Here is a recipe for a fruity, bright-hued rice dish in the Persian tradition. Serve it as a side dish, or with salad, yogurt, and tangy pickles for a light meal.
2 cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons cooking oil (not olive oil)
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1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup green or golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon butter, softened (optional)
Cook the rice according to the instructions on the package, and set aside, covered.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the carrots, walnuts, and raisins, and cook until the carrots are slightly softened, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade and water. Turn down the heat to low and stir in the marmalade, along with the cinnamon and turmeric, and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and salt to taste.
Fluff the rice with a fork, and transfer it to a large bowl. Fold in the carrot mixture, and the butter, if using. Serve warm.
If you want to learn more about Persian cuisine, check out my cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen. It’s available for pre-order, and in stores on April 16!