Rice was a staple in my mother’s kitchen. Always prepared in the most basic way, it was never the centerpiece of the meal but occupied the role of ” the starchy” side dish. My mother bought Uncle Ben’s and cooked it in salted boiling water. Period. There were two ways that it was served, with hot milk and sugar for a dairy meal, and in sort of a sticky mass for meat meals. The rice didn’t elicit any response when it came to the table, it was like eating white bread, just sort of there. My mother was a great cook so I attribute this lack of imagination to the fact that she grew up in Poland where I am sure she was raised eating potatoes (which she always prepared well, and in numerous ways) but, of course, my sister disagrees.
The first time I tasted Persian rice with Tadigh was when my children began attending a Jewish day school in Los Angeles that had a large Persian population. The special preparation of this dish produces a tender, fluffy and fragrant rice that sometimes includes a thick, pale yellow crust (tadigh). The crust is both chewy and crunchy, and since there is only one layer of it, everyone wants to get an even share.
I was determined to learn how to prepare Tadigh, and so over the years I have tried various recipes, this being the one that I now use. For those of us who live in Los Angles, Persian rice is not a particularly unusual or exotic dish, but for those of you who live in other parts of the country, I encourage you to try this. It may take a little getting use to, but I promise that it’s worth the effort. You’ll never be satisfied with a bowl of Uncle Ben’s again.
Persian Rice with Tadigh
2 cups Basmati Rice
4 quarts water
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 Tbs water
Rinse rice in a bowl of cold water several times, till water is no longer cloudy, about 4 times. Drain and submerge rice under warm water and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. Bring a wide-bottomed pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water to a rapid boil. Add the rice and cook for 7 minutes. Drain.
Wipe pot dry with a paper towel. Place 3 Tbs of the oil in the pot, add the turmeric and stir. Tilt pan to cover entire bottom with oil. Pour rice into pan, making sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with rice. Then gently pull extra rice towards the center to form a pyramid. Poke several holes into the rice with the back of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle rice with remaining oil. Cover lid with a dish towel and tie on the top. Cover pot, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Then lower heat ( as low as possible) and cook for at least 30- 45 more minutes. Crust will form on bottom. Invert and serve with crust on top. Serves 6-8 people