In the excellent cookbook The World of Jewish Cooking, author Gil Marks writes,
Rice was brought westward from eastern Asia to Persia at least 3,000 years ago, where it quickly became so beloved that no meal was considered complete without its presence. Contact with the Persian Empire brought rice to Israel at the onset of the 2nd Temple Period, and Jews became almost as passionate about it as Persians, considering its whiteness a symbol of purity. By Roman times, Israeli rice had become an important export of which the Jerusalem Talmud boasts “There is none like it outside Israel.”
For those of you who don’t know, Persia is modern-day Iran and there are loads of Jews of Iranian heritage living in Israel. I myself, was raised in America on Uncle Ben’s orange boxed white rice which was sticky and very starchy. Persian rice, on the other hand, is dry, not sticky, with every grain of rice, fluffy and separate. It took me a long time and many tutorials with an Iranian friend to get the consistency right. The best way I have found is to first soak the rice, then rinse it thoroughly, par-boil it for 4 minutes in a large pot of salted water, drain again, lightly fry in oil and then steam with no additional water. But short of that multi-stepped method, the below recipe takes a few short cuts to produce the same result. The bit with the towel-wrapped lid is a MUST! The towel absorbs condensation that forms on the lid and drips back down into your rice. Just be very careful that your towel doesn’t touch down to the burner and catch fire.
Basmati rice is my rice of choice for this dish. You can use brown basmati or even long-grain brown rice, but add about 20 minutes cooking time and maybe 1/2 cup more water if you use brown instead of white.
- 2 Tbsp oil, divided
- 1 onion, minced
- 4 large carrots, grated
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
- 2 cups white Basmati rice
- 3 1/2 cups water or broth
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- dash cinnamon
- 1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Soak the rice in water to cover for at least an hour, preferably 2-3 hours
- Drain the rice in a strainer and rinse it thoroughly for a few minutes until the water runs clear, not white
- Set rice aside in strainer to drain
- Saute onion and carrots in 1 Tbsp oil until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes
- Add rice and stir to coat completely with oil.
- Keep stirring for a minute until a toasty aroma begins to arise.
- Add turmeric, raisins, cinnamon, salt and pepper, orange blossom water if using, and water and stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 12 minutes, or until water is all absorbed and rice is to your desired consistency.
- Fluff the rice with a fork.
- Wrap the cover of the pot in a clean, cotton kitchen towel and replace it tightly on the pot.
- Turn off the heat and let sit for 10-20 minutes or until ready to serve.
- In the meantime, saute the almonds in the remaining 1 Tbsp oil just until lightly fragranced and golden. Be careful not to burn them!
- Toss almonds into rice and fluff again with a fork before serving.