I was recently in Philadelphia and ate at one of the best restaurants on the scene in recent years—and the best dish I tasted was a humble side of basmati rice.
At Zahav, Chef Michael Solomonov beautifully highlights modern Israeli cuisine, and I was greatly inspired by his vision, the story behind his culinary venture, and the flavors of the amazing meal. As I looked around, I saw that most diners had a sense of exploration as they discovered the colorful melody of flavors and layers in each dish that payed homage to the chef’s roots, to his fallen brother, and to the pleasures we receive from earth.
What resonated the most for me were the familiar flavors of home in the smoky eggplant, the homemade bread, and the grilled meats. But most notably, in the herbed basmati rice. The Al’Haesh dishes (grilled over coals) are served with a side of basmati rice that was not only delicious, but momentarily took me home. This humble side dish became the center around which all the other plates harmoniously danced, a little pot of rice that had the power to transport me to another place and time, to the the familiar places where I feel safe, comforted, and loved, to my grandmother’s old kitchen in Isfahan.
Rice is the ultimate comfort food. It has been farmed by people for over 10000 years, and growing up in a Persian family, its beautifully fragrant and earthy aroma (in Hindi, “bas” means “aroma” and “mati” means “full of”) was part of the essential scents of home. Cooking traditional Persian rice (with tahdig of course) is truly an art form (to create such a saffron-scented masterpiece, check out Persian Mama’s great recipe).
But for a simpler and quicker version, I use a rice cooker. Not all rice cookers can deliver the crunchy and golden bottom of the pot goodness—generally the PARS brand rice cookers do the trick.
In this rendition, I highlight herbs in the garden using basil, mint, chives, and rosemary for an aromatic rice dish guaranteed to feed the soul (nousheh jan...). Nine years ago, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother in Iran shortly before she passed. It was the New Year and we made this dish together. I’ve had herbed rice many times before, but never had it tasted more wonderful. I learned the recipe from my mother, who had learned it from her mother. And here we were, together for the first time in nineteen years—three generations of women cooking a family meal together as if distance and time had not kept us apart for almost two decades.
Maya Angelou says, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I found myself at home in this beautiful experience at Zahav, and I hope you do, too, by trying my basmati rice recipe.
- 3 cups basmati rice
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups fresh chives, chopped
- 5 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper (adjust to taste)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (adjust to taste)