Recipe: Tah Dig (Persian Rice)- Vegetarian
It’s funny which topics will elicit conversation. Politics and religion are universal convo starters but can often be arbiters of contentious debate. I rarely open with such loaded topics, unless I know well with whom I am speaking.
I was recently in Atlanta visiting with my husband’s family. Sitting in the cozy living room my husband’s aunt’s home, I found myself alone with my husband’s cousin’s husband (make sense?). We’ve met twice before, many years ago, and were currently grasping, awkwardly at something to talk about. Then for some reason, Andrew (my husband’s cousin’s husband) started talking about the food he ate during the year he lived between Greece and Cyprus. Fresh seafood, some lamb, cheese dishes, then his eyes grew wide when he recounted Tah Dig.
I’d never heard of Tah Dig and he explained to me that it is a Persian rice dish that is left to cook long enough so that a crust develops on the bottom of the pot. It’s flavored with saffron and comes out yellow. He said that it is the one dish that he still makes at home, in Atlanta, a decade after his time spent on Cyprus.
When we returned home I began researching Tah Dig, (which in Farsi means, ‘bottom of the pot’), and was struck by how many people proclaim unwavering love for this dish. It appears to be the mother of all Iranian soul foods. Typically served with soups and stews, I ate my slice of Tah Dig simply with steamed, buttered asparagus and it was divine.
Some recipes call for the use of yogurt, some do not– I went half and half in my recipe. Some recipes call for seasoning the rice with spices in addition to saffron, some call solely for saffron, I chose to incorporate Garam Masala (not typical, but tasty). Do as you like– yogurt or no, spices or plain– make the Tah Dig, your own version of soul food.
1/4 cup hot water
hefty pinch saffron threads
2 and 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup plain, greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1) If you have time, soak the basmati in plenty of water for 2 hours. If not, simply rinse the basmati in water until the water runs clear. Soak the saffron in warm water for at least 20 minutes.
2) Place the soaked or rinsed rice into a large pot and cover by a few inches with water. Bring to a boil and simmer strongly for five minutes only (the rice will not be fully cooked). Drain, season with salt and set aside to cool. Mix 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons butter yogurt and Garam Masala together. When the rice is room temp, mix half of it with the yogurt mixture.
3) Place a heavy, non-stick large pot (I used a wok) over medium heat and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Plunk the rice mixed with yogurt into the hot pan and press the rive down evenly into the bottom of the pan. Now, mound the remaining rice on top of that, so that it is in a small pyramid shape. Poke 4-5 holes onto the top of the mound and pour the saffron water into the holes. Place a clean kitchen towel over the pot and place a lid on top of the towel– fold the towel up over the lid so that it won’t catch fire. Turn the heat to low and cook for 20-60 minutes. It’s hard to give an exact time: I used the simmering burner on my stove (tiny) and set on low it took 60 minutes to develop the crust. Depending on the size of the burner and how low you can get the heat, will determine the length of time. *You know the crust has formed when you shake the pan and the rice ‘cake’ moves as one piece*
Remove the lid and towel and place a large plate over the rice (using a wok made it easy to fit a plate on top of the rice), carefully invert the Tah Dig onto the plate. Cut into slices and serve hot and crunchy.
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