Persian Rice and Golden Potato Crust (Ta-dig)

I feel I can’t go any farther without first including a recipe for basic Persian rice (Chelow). Rice, water, salt, simmer, done….If only it were so simple!

To Persians, making rice is an art form. There is a great deal of care and detail involved in making the perfect fluffy and delicate rice we are famous for. The crown jewel of Persian rice is the Ta-dig. The delicious, crunchy golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot during the cooking process.

Ta-dig is beloved by Iranians and it often disappears as soon as it hits the dining table. When I first started dating my husband, who is Canadian, my younger brother tried to convince him that non-Iranians were not allowed to eat the ta-dig in a desperate attempt to keep it all for himself.

Ta-dig comes in many forms. Some make it with simple saffron rice, others add lavash bread, yogurt, tomatoes, scallions or leeks…..the possibilities are endless. But my absolute favourite is ta-dig made with thinly sliced potatoes. The potatoes form a crispy crust that almost tastes like a cross between a french fry and a potato chip……can you think of anything better than that?

Persian Rice with Golden Potato Ta-dig
(Serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice (preferably Indian)
water
2 tbsp salt
canola oil
1 thinly sliced russet potato
1/4 tsp ground saffron* dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate it with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is clear – it will take about five or six times but can take up to ten times.

After the rice is washed cover with 6 cups lukewarm water and 1 tbsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes. This step is optional but the longer it soaks, the more flavourful and fluffy the rice will be.

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water with 1 tbsp salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaking rice and add to the pot of boiling water. Turn down the heat slightly to medium-high (it should still be boiling) and boil for 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally. You will notice that the rice will not only expand, it will rise to the top of the water when it is almost ready.

Make sure to taste the rice as you go along. When it is ready it should be soft but not mushy and over-cooked. Drain the rice and rinse very lightly with lukewarm water.

Clean out and dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil in your pot to just cover the bottom. Cover the bottom of your pot with a single layer of sliced potatoes. Pour the saffron water over the potatoes.

Using a spatula gently sprinkle the rice in the pot forming a bit of a pyramid over the potatoes. Using the back of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice. Pour a mixture of ¼ cup water with 2 tbsp of canola oil over the rice. Cover and turn the heat up to medium high for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot (tie the ends so they don’t burn). This is so the steam doesn’t go back into the rice.  Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Alternatively you can use a double layer of paper towel between the pot and lid. Let the rice steam for 30-40 minutes.

When the rice is done, use a spatula to gently sprinkle the rice onto a serving dish. This will help ensure that the grains of rice separate and are fluffy. Invert the pot onto a plate to loosen the delicious and crispy ta-dig. Enjoy!

*When you buy saffron it comes in strands. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind it into a powder.

Advertisements

Mirza Ghassemi (A Northern Iranian Eggplant and Tomato Dish)

Mirza Ghassemi is a delicious blend of creamy baked eggplant, tomatoes, lots of garlic and egg. There is something poetic about the combination of eggplant and tomato……Italians have Caponata, the French have Ratatouille, the Lebanese have Menazzaleh and we Iranians have Mirza Ghassemi.

Mirza Ghassemi is a Northern Iranian dish from the Gilan province. The first time I remember tasting it was in my student days at a restaurant in Montreal.  As an eggplant and garlic lover I was instantly in love! I had never cooked an Iranian dish in my entire life but I called home immediately and demanded a recipe from my mother. My roommate and I attempted to re-create the dish and were surprised at how simple it was. It became a regular part of our cooking repertoire and hopefully it will become part of yours as well.

Mirza Ghassemi 
(serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course)

1 large eggplant
1 small onion (or half a medium onion), thinly sliced
¼ tsp turmeric
3 big cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tsp tomato paste
1 egg, slightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Pierce the eggplant several times with a fork and rub 1 tsp olive oil on the outside. Bake in  the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until very tender.  Peel the eggplant and chop the pulp in a bowl and then mash it with a fork.

Heat 1 tbsp of canola oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender and golden, about 10 minutes. If the pan get too dry add another tsp of oil. If it browns too quickly turn down the heat slightly. Add ¼ tsp turmeric.  Then add the minced garlic cloves and cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat till slightly golden and fragrant.

Add another tbsp of oil, the eggplant pulp and the chopped tomatoes. Saute over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

Make a well in the centre of the eggplant tomato mixture and pour in a slightly beaten egg. Leave for about 10 seconds and then start stirring the egg into the mixture. Cook for another minute or two until the egg is cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with warmed pita as an appetizer or with basmati rice for a delicious vegetarian main course.