A Brief Introduction to Persian-Style Cooked Rice: Why is it so delicious?

Today’s post is about that important staple of Persian/Iranian cuisine (after bread of course): RICE. We all love it – especially the further up north you go in the country – and we make lots of it, sometimes plain to serve with stews or grills, and sometimes mixed with all kinds of veggies and meat as a dish on its own; very similar to the Indian/Pakistani dish called Biryani.

I dare say the way Persians cook rice is the best; not because I happen to be Persian, but because it’s genuinely my personal opinion, and I’m glad to say I’m not the only one to think so. The legendary Middle-Eastern Chef, Yotam Ottolenghi describes why he shares the same viewpoint:

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 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.

( Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi, p.61)

Such a precise description; I couldn’t have put it better myself.

I will explain this method later in more detail, but now I think it’s best to first talk about the various rice dishes Iranians make…

The Suitable Rice Varieties

Iranians love aromatic long grains. There is a debate in our community abroad about which brands produce the best result, but having spoken to many of my friends in the UK and based on my personal experience, Anjoman seems to be the closest approximation to the real thing, and it is available in most Middle-Eastern supermarkets.

If shopping in your everyday major supermarkets, I would say go for good quality Basmati as a reasonable substitute. In terms of brands, Tilda is a good one, but usually very expensive (I only buy it for special occasions as it turns out very nice in the end, all grains long & separate). Most of the time though I tend to use the supermarkets’ own brands of white Basmati rice in the UK (Tesco, Sainsburys, all of them do nice Basmati rice).

Persian Rice Dishes

Iranian cuisine is full of various rice dishes, each showcasing different ingredients, but in general, they can be summed up into the categories below:

  1. Plain rice (called CHELO) which is usually served with the traditional grills (KABAB) along with a knob of butter and sumac and decorated with some saffron rice.
  2. Plain rice known as POLO -served alongside casseroles and stews (i.e. KHORESH). This rice is also usually adorned by some saffron rice on the top.
  3. Mixed rice dishes, which include rice plus other ingredients such as green beans (LOUBIA POLO), lentils (ADAS POLO), cabbage (KALAM POLO) etc. Very similar style to the Indian Biryani, these dishes are a meal on their own. Sometimes cooked with meat, but are very easy to turn vegetarian if you wish.

There is also a type of rice called KATEH which is what mums make for their kids or sick people as it’s so soft that it doesn’t need chewing (a bit like sticky rice) and also it’s relatively fast to make. But this rice is cooked a different way (left to absorb the water), hence I didn’t list it along with the others.

CHELO & POLO have minor differences, but are made the same way more or less. The mixed rice dishes however involve some additional steps. The technique shared between all Persian rice dishes is the use of a cloth wrapped around the lid to absorb the excess water/steam and preventing it from liquidifying and falling back into the pot, which could make the rice sticky.

In furure articles, I will show you how to make Persian rice dishes.

If you have got any questions or comments, please leave them below.


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