Persian-Style Rice with Saffron and Lentils Recipe

Difficulty: Easy | Total Time: 1 hr | Active Time: | Makes: 8 to 10 servings

This recipe elevates rice to a new level, yet it’s simple to make. In Persian households, this is a dish that each cook personalizes to make his or her own. The best part is that the rice, potatoes, and yogurt form a crust, called tadeeg in Farsi, that is so good you’ll be fighting over the last forkfuls. This version is layered with lentils and onions for an understated twist.

Special equipment: A heavy-bottomed pot, such as this cast-iron Dutch oven by Le Creuset, helps the tadeeg develop well.

Game plan: Once you have all the ingredients layered in the pot, you can’t see the crust, so use your nose to discern the smell of the rice as it cooks. If you smell something that resembles burning, turn down the heat!

INGREDIENTS
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1/2 medium white onion, fine dice
  • 4 cups long-grain, white basmati rice
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium russet potato
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Fill a large pot with water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Rinse lentils in a colander and set aside. Combine 2 cups water with lentils and onion in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, lower heat to medium-low, cover, and let until simmer 10 minutes. Drain, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and set aside.
  3. Place the rice in a large bowl and fill it with water. Rub the rice between your hands until the water is clear. Drain the rice into a colander and set aside.
  4. Once the water boils, add the rice and let boil until it is half cooked, about 5 – 7 minutes (the grain will be translucent yet still starchy). Remove from heat and drain the rice.
  5. Slice the potato into 1/4-inch rounds and set aside. Mix together the yogurt and half of the saffron. Add 3 cups drained rice and mix. Mix the remaining rice with 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining saffron, and reserve.
  6. Return the pot to the stove over medium-high heat and add 3 tablespoons oil. Spread the potato rounds evenly to cover the bottom of the pot (overlap if necessary) and cook until just beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Top the potatoes with the rice and yogurt mixture, and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pot. Let it cook until the rice begins to form a crust, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  7. Lower heat to medium and add 1/3 of the reserved rice. Top the rice with half of the lentil mixture, and alternately layer the rice and lentils (ending with the rice).
  8. Place the lid on the pot and continue steaming the rice until it is just cooked, about 7 – 10 minutes. It is done once the rice is al dente but fully cooked when you bite into it (there is no starchy taste). Remove the rice from the heat and flip it onto the serving dish, so that the crunchy part (the tadeeg) is on top.