Persian Jeweled Rice – A Vegetarian Delight

It occurred to me that over the past couple months I have been severely delinquent about keeping up with my blog posting – life in the big city, and all that – so I thought I should remedy that with a post that is colorful, delicious, healthy and … believe it or not … vegetarian. Lolly and I are just finishing up a two-week vegetarian fast which, by the by, has done wonders for my middle-aged waistline as I close in rapidly on the Big Five-Oh. We made this dish early on, and every bit of it was devoured.

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As the name suggests, this is a traditional Middle-Eastern dish, often served during festivals or other special occasions. The blend of nuts and berries are representative of emeralds (pistachios) and rubies (cranberries), with saffron and orange zest adding a lovely golden color. The base of the dish is basmati rice. For best results, to prevent clumped, sticky rice you will want to rinse it thoroughly before cooking. I usually put it in a large bowl, add plenty of cold water and work it with my fingers until the water turns cloudy. Then I pour off the water and add new, repeating until the water stays fairly clear, which takes maybe five or six rinses. This method will give you beautiful individual grains when your recipe is finished. For this dish, after you are done rinsing, soak the rice in fresh water for an hour before cooking.

Here are your ingredients to make 4-6 servings:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • Pinch of saffron, ground with a mortar and pestle
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil, ghee or clarified butter, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 1 cup blanched almonds (whole or sliced as you prefer)
  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 2 large onions, sliced thin
  • 2 tsp. of kosher salt, divided
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 cups of water
  • Zest of 1 orange, in thin strips

Warm the milk in a small saucepan, remove it from the heat, and add the saffron to let it steep and release both its color and flavor.

In a large, deep skillet, heat half of the oil or butter over medium-low flame and add the bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Sauté them for a couple minutes until the aromas begin to release, then add the nuts. Cook for maybe 5 minutes, stirring only a couple times, until they develop a golden color and are well infused with the spices, then remove them from the skillet and set them aside for now.

Next add the rest of the oil or butter to the skillet, kick the heat up to medium, and sauté the onions with 1 tsp. of the salt until they are well caramelized and even a little crunchy, which will take probably 10-12 minutes. When the onions are done cooking, drain the rice and add it to the skillet along with the nut-spice mixture and the remaining salt, as well as the cranberries, water and orange strips. However, you may want to reserve some of your orange zest strips for a garnish.

Bring this final mixture to a boil, then back it down to a low simmer and cover the skillet tightly. Resist the urge to lift the lid – as long as your heat is back down to low it will finish cooking to perfection in about 15 minutes without needing to stir. When it’s done, give it a quick fluff and remove the bay leaves and cardamom pods. Turn it out onto a serving platter, garnish with your reserved orange strips, and voila! You’re chowing down Persian style – and healthy vegetarian for good measure. We enjoyed this with a big happy grin on our faces as usual, along with a lovely quinoa, orange and fennel salad. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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