I first tasted Persian Rice more than 20 years ago at a Christmas celebration. It was the contribution from my Cuban hostess's Iranian mother-in-law. I went home with the recipe tucked in my purse, and it's the dish I'm invariably asked to bring to any holiday meal. Over the years, I've changed the basic saffron rice very little from that first delicious taste, but I have made up several distinct versions of it. This is my coconut riff. While the recipe can be cut, I never do—it's a special occasion dish, and special occasions call for a crowd. (The many steps take less time than you'd think and are worth it. The towel is absolutely necessary for fluffy rice; if you use paper, be sure it's a high quality one without printing.) —Antonia AT
Basmati rice (I use the extra long)
cinnamon stick broken into 2-3 pieces
small onions, halved down the center and thinly sliced
coconut milk (I use full fat canned)
1 teaspoon saffron threads
fresh pomegranates for 1 cup (approx.) arils
coarsely chopped roasted pistachio nuts (I like salted, dry roasted ones)
Rinse the rice in several changes of water; agitate it each time. Do this until the water runs relatively clear. (This step helps to make the rice fluffy.)
Place the rinsed rice in a large bowl and cover again with water Add one teaspoon of salt and stir. Let rest one hour. Drain very well.
In a 200 degree oven, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of saffron threads on a small piece of aluminum foil and toast for 6-8 minutes. (I always err on the side of caution with this pricey spice.)
Crumble the toasted saffron into a small bowl, add the untoasted saffron and 1/4 cup of the hot water. Steep and add to the coconut milk mixture.
Heat a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the coconut oil and tilt to insure the bottom is coated. Add the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. When they sizzle and become fragrant, add the onions and reduce the heat to medium so they won't burn. Saute until lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until it's coated with the oil.
I serve it spread on a platter as I saw it the first time, edged with (the remaining) pistachio nuts with the remaining pomegranate arils in the center.