Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy Nowruz! Persian Cooking Lesson

My friend Piglet and I recently took a lesson on Persian cooking at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). Our teacher was Jennifer Abadi, who teaches various types of Middle Eastern cooking and has written A Fistful of Lentils, on Syrian Jewish cuisine. (I have ordered a copy but haven't read it.)

I went specifically hoping to learn how to make Persian rice (chelo), which has a wonderful crispy crust and is one of the best dishes in the world. And so that's the dish I chose to make.

First, we washed and rinsed long grained rice (we used Basmati) about 5 times, until the water was absolutely clear. Then we boiled it in lots of salted water for about 7 minutes, and drained it thoroughly. Then we dried the pot and melted a lot of butter in it. Then we placed the rice on the butter, not stirring but poking steam holes in the rice.

We wrapped a towel around the cover and placed it over the pot, and simmered for about 20-25 minutes, until it pulled away from the side of the pot.
Rice pot with towel wrapped cover
Persian rice after simmering, pulling away from pot
Next, we cooked it over high heat for a minute to set the crust. Finally, we turned the pot upside down and there it was: the perfect chelo!

Perfect chelo
We added a sauce made of grated carrots, blanched orange zest, saffron and slice almonds, for a truly fantastic dish. (See picture below.)

Other dishes that the class made were a stupendous chicken soup with chickpea flour meatballs (Nimtaz Rafaelzadeh's Gondi), which Piglet made; red kidney bean dip with tomato paste, lime and angelica powder (Loobia Pokhteh); chopped cucumber salad with coriander, tarragon and mint leaves (Saladeh Serkeh Khlar); chicken stewed in walnuts and pomegranate juice (Fessenjan); cauliflower pie (Kuku-ye God-e Kalam) and pistachio cake with cardamom syrup.

Norwaz (Persian New Year's) feast (note sauced chelo at rear right)
A really fun lesson.

Bobby Jay

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