Pascale’s Kitchen: Perfect Persian rice three ways

I was eager to learn more about rice, and that is why I invited Diana Rachmani to spend some time with me in my kitchen.

RICE WITH DILL, PEAS OR BROAD BEANS (POLO SHEVID BAGHALI) (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
RICE WITH DILL, PEAS OR BROAD BEANS (POLO SHEVID BAGHALI)
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

If you ask two people how to cook rice, it’s unlikely they’ll give you the same answer. So what is the best way to cook rice

This is one of the questions I receive more often than almost any other. These little white grains are a staple in so many societies around the world, and interestingly, each one seems to have its own idea on the best way to prepare rice. I’m not even sure which method I like the best. 

Some people rinse the rice for a long time to remove excess starch, while others don’t rinse it at all. Some people soak rice overnight, while others fry their rice in oil

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Once the initial stage of preparation is complete, there are numerous different steps that can be taken next. For example, some people boil the rice for a few minutes, then turn off the flame and let the grains steam for another 20 minutes. Others prefer to cook the rice slowly over a low flame, or poke a spoon into the rice to create a few holes to allow the steam to escape. Another method is to cover the top of the pot with a towel and then replace it over the pot to let the rice that was soaked overnight and parboiled to steam for another 40 minutes. 

Of course, there are a few general rules of thumb for cooking rice that pretty much everyone follows, such as never stirring the rice or lifting the lid of the pot while it’s cooking. 

 DIANA RACHMANI (L) with the writer. (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) DIANA RACHMANI (L) with the writer. (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

Another important factor is the type of rice used, since each one cooks differently. There’s white rice, wild rice, brown rice, red rice, basmati and round rice, which is commonly used for preparing sushi and risotto. 

The most commonly used type of rice is white rice. This category includes varieties such as jasmine and Thai, which are long grain, and Persian. All of them are easy to prepare. 

I was eager to learn more about rice, and that is why I invited Diana Rachmani to spend some time with me in my kitchen. Diana, mother of five and grandmother of nine, is a well-known expert in preparing Persian rice.

Like many people, Diana learned to cook while spending hours and hours in the kitchen with her mother when they still lived in Iran. “I can still see the images in my head of how my mother would dig her hands into the rice and freshly chopped herbs. It was as if her fingers were carrying out a special dance. Every dish she prepared came out perfectly.”

Diana’s mother became ill at an early age, and so Diana took charge of all the family’s kitchen activity. She even learned how to make the revered Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi, a rice dish with beef and vegetables. 

Diana’s dream was to make aliyah, and with the help of the Jewish Agency, and after a long and tumultuous journey, she and her family finally escaped Iran and made their way to Israel. 

Diana was also lucky enough to participate in MasterChef Israel 6, during which she received many compliments for the Persian delicacies she prepared.

Following this experience, she received many requests to share her expertise with others, and so she began offering a series of workshops to prepare sweet, savory and rice dishes. These workshops take place in her home, and Diana also hosts festive meals for birthdays and other happy occasions. 

Diana shared with me three rice recipes that are very dear to her and are perfect to serve at holiday meals. The first recipe is for Shirin Polo, or white rice with zereshk, pistachios and almonds. The second recipe is for Polo Shevid Baghali, which is rice with dill, peas or broad beans. The third recipe is for Lubia Polo, or rice with carrots, green beans and saffron.

 WHITE RICE WITH ZERESHK, PISTACHIOS AND ALMONDS (SHIRIN POLO) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) WHITE RICE WITH ZERESHK, PISTACHIOS AND ALMONDS (SHIRIN POLO) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
WHITE RICE WITH ZERESHK, PISTACHIOS AND ALMONDS (SHIRIN POLO)

Makes 6-8 servings. 

  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt

Additions: 

  • 1 cup almonds, sliced
  • 1 cup pistachios, shelled
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ tsp. saffron, crushed and soaked in ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 cup zereshk (barberries), rinsed

For pot:

  • ½ cup oil
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced lengthwise into ½-1-cm.-thick pieces

Rinse the rice well, then drain. 

Place the rice in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Add the salt, mix and let sit for an hour. 

Stir-fry the pistachios and almonds, separately, in a frying pan with a little oil, stirring constantly. Set aside. 

Add the sugar, oil and water to a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and cook for 4 minutes. Add the saffron and the zereshk to the pot. Stir and cover the pot. Set aside. 

Drain the rice and transfer to a medium pot. Add boiling water to cover so that it reaches 1 cm. above the rice. Cook for 5 minutes until rice is halfway cooked (al dente). Drain. 

Pour ¼ cup oil into a medium pot. Add the turmeric and turn on the flame. Pour the water in, stir, then arrange the potato slices so they form one layer on the bottom of the pot. Next, add the rice on top of the potatoes. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes over a high flame, until you see steam coming out. 

Lower the flame, then add the rest of the oil. Drape a towel over the lid and replace on the pot. Continue cooking for another 35 minutes. 

Flip over the pot of rice onto a serving platter so that the potato slices now appear on top. Add the pistachios, almonds and the zereshk. Serve hot.

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 45 minutes + soaking time.Status: Parve. 

RICE WITH DILL, PEAS OR BROAD BEANS (POLO SHEVID BAGHALI)

Makes 6-8 servings. 

  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 4 packages dill
  • 1 package (800 gr.) frozen peas or broad beans (if using broad beans, leave the thin peel on)

For pot: 

  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced lengthwise into ½-1-cm.-thick pieces
  • Rinse the rice well and drain. 

Pour the rice into a bowl and pour boiling water on top of rice. Add the salt, stir and let sit for 1 hour. 

Drain the rice and transfer to a medium bowl. Add boiling water to cover so that it reaches 1 cm. above the rice. Cook for 5 minutes until rice is halfway cooked (al dente). Drain.

Rinse the dill well, then chop it finely. 

Rinse the peas or broad beans and place them in a colander. Add the rice to the colander, then rinse everything together. Mix the rice together with the dill. 

Pour ¼ cup oil into a medium pot. Add the turmeric and turn on the flame. Pour the water in, stir, then arrange the potato slices so they form 1 layer on the bottom of the pot. Next, add the rice with the dill, peas or broad beans on top of the potatoes. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes over a high flame, until you see steam coming out. 

Lower the flame, then add ¼ cup of the oil. Drape a towel over the lid and replace on the pot. Continue cooking for another 35 minutes. Serve hot. 

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 45 minutes + soaking time.Status: Parve. 

 RICE WITH CARROTS, GREEN BEANS AND SAFFRON (LUBIA POLO) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) RICE WITH CARROTS, GREEN BEANS AND SAFFRON (LUBIA POLO) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
RICE WITH CARROTS, GREEN BEANS AND SAFFRON (LUBIA POLO)

Substitution: kidney beans for green beans.

Makes 6-8 servings. 

  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup oil
  • ¼ tsp. saffron, crushed and soaked in 5 Tbsp. boiling water
  • 1 package (800 gr.) frozen green beans
  • ½ Tbsp. salt

For pot:

  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced lengthwise into ½-1-cm.-thick pieces

Rinse the rice well and drain.

Place the rice in a bowl and pour boiling water on top of the rice. Add the salt and stir. Let sit for an hour. 

Add the carrots and ½ cup of water to a pot and cook until all the water has been absorbed. Add ¼ cup oil and sauté carrots, stirring constantly. Add the saffron, stir and turn off the flame. Transfer the carrots to a bowl. Heat up the remaining ¼ cup oil in the pot and add the green beans and salt. Sauté until green beans soften. Pour the green beans on top of the carrots and mix well. 

Add ¼ cup of the oil and the turmeric to a medium pot and heat. Pour in the water and stir. Arrange the potato slices on the bottom of the pot. Then, add the rice, carrots and green beans. Cover the pot and continue cooking over high flame until you see steam coming out. 

Lower the flame, then add ¼ cup of the oil. Drape a towel over the lid and replace on the pot. Continue cooking for another 35 minutes. Serve hot. 

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 50 minutes + soaking time.Status: Parve.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.