I have been having a long literary love affair with Claudia Roden, instigated initially by my crippling dependence on her The Book of Jewish Food, which I consulted whenever I needed to cook anything typically Jewish. Later I met my idol in the flesh and immediately fell for her charm, captivating modesty, and endless stream of stories. It is a real honor to count her as a friend.
Apart from her Jewish cookery bible, Claudia has written several masterpieces covering the
cuisines of Italy and Spain and many other illuminating recipe collections. Her A Book of Middle Eastern Food, in particular, has paved the way for many writers on the subject and still feels as current as it did when it was first published in 1968. This recipe is inspired by a marvelous Iranian dish from that book.
I have said it before and I am happy to repeat myself: Iranians make the best rice. Their technique of washing and parboiling the rice and then allowing it to steam in the residual moisture makes it worthy of being included in this chapter much more than other rice cooking methods that, technically, are more about absorption than steaming. The result is light rice, every grain perfectly defined from the rest of the clan. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of salt called for in the water before the rice is drained and rinsed, and also don’t worry about some rice sticking to the bottom and burning a little: it makes it nice and crunchy, just like the Iranians like it. The rice will go fantastically well with the Indian Ratatouille or the Iranian Vegetable Stew with Dried Lime.
rounded 2 cups/400 g basmati rice
½ cup/110 g unsalted butter
2/3 cup/100 g whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
4 large Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (3 oz/80 g)
¼ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
salt and white pepper
Rinse the rice well under running cold water. Put it in a large bowl, cover with plenty of lukewarm water, and stir in 2 tablespoons salt. Allow the rice to sit for 1 to 2 hours, then drain and wash with lukewarm water.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt, then the rice. Gently boil the rice for 3 to 4 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked. Check this by removing a grain and biting into it: it should still have a tiny bit of bite. Drain the rice and rinse under lukewarm water. Set aside to drain.
In the same saucepan, melt 5½ tablespoons/80 g of the butter and sauté the almonds for 4 minutes, until they turn slightly golden. Add the dates and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon white pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, and half the rice. Gently flatten this rice and then layer the remaining rice on top. Melt the remaining 2½ tablespoons butter and drizzle this over the top along with 3 tablespoons water. Cover the pan tightly with a lid and cook on the lowest heat possible for 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and spoon the saffron and its soaking water over the top. Cover the pan immediately with a kitchen towel, seal with the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes.
To serve, don’t stir the rice, just use a large serving spoon to remove portions with the distinct two layers kept separate. Serve at once.
“Reprinted with permission from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.”
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