A recipe for Persian Rice that’s pure gold, with the sass of saffron, the fire of cinnamon, and the freshness of asparagus.
With rice being a whole food group rather than just a grain hereabouts, I am always looking for tasty ways to cook with it. Desi and Jay love it, and even the dogs will eat bowlfuls.
My own love for rice was a little late coming, despite the fact that it’s a rock-solid staple of Indian cuisine and I grew up eating it every day. Or perhaps it was this omnipresence that made me not love but almost hate it. When I did fall in love, eventually, the fondness stuck.
It’s hard to allay those feelings, not when there are so many delicious ways to cook rice, like this Vegetable Biryani that’s a lifesaver on hurried weekdays, or this Vegan Jambalaya with flavors that dance on your tastebuds, or this Vegan Paella that makes me want to do the flamenco.
In fact, everything I cook with rice only reinforces my enchantment with it now.
And with this Persian Rice with Saffron and Asparagus, I think I’ve pushed myself past the point of recovery.
The rice here is true gold, infused with the delicate sass of saffron fronds and the fire of cinnamon and cayenne. Onions, tomatoes and asparagus add freshness. The soft, textured bites of extrafirm tofu, standing in admirably for meat, give an untraditional yet welcome new dimension.
But it’s the tahdig, that crispy, sublimely scorched layer of rice cooked at the bottom of the pan, that bowls you over and makes you realize the miracles that rice is truly capable of.
We know that when starch hits high heat, the result is finger-licking good. Think French fries, what’s not to love? The tahdig is just that kind of magic, albeit a healthier one.
Exotic and elegant, this recipe would be great for entertaining friends, but I think you could make it for your kids too and they’d love it. Jay finds the tahdig immensely fun and delicious and the saffron intensifies that savory flavor he craves when I am not letting him have as much junk food as he really wants. 😉
A win, I think.
Persian Rice with Saffron and Asparagus
- 2 cups long grain, fragrant rice like basmati (washed several times, then soaked in water for 30 minutes)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions (thinly sliced)
- 3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 large tomatoes (diced, or use 3 cups canned, diced tomatoes)
- 1/2 tsp saffron (mixed with 1/4 cup of any non-dairy milk and set aside for a few minutes)
- 1 14-oz block of super firm tofu (optional. If using cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes)
- 1 pound asparagus (tough ends trimmed, and tender parts cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Drain the rice and place it in a microwave-safe bowl with the bay leaves and salt to taste. Add 2 cups of water and microwave 10 minutes or until the rice is mostly but not fully cooked. You can also do this on the stovetop. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt and bay leaves and add the drained rice. Cook about 7-8 minutes until rice reaches the right level of doneness, then drain and set aside.
- Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan with a tight lid. Add the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt and ground black pepper and sauce until the onions start to brown.
- Add the tofu cubes, if using, and continue to cook, turning the pieces of tofu over carefully every couple of minutes so they brown slightly without breaking. Add the asparagus along with the turmeric, cayenne, ground cinnamon and more salt if needed. Continue to cook a couple of minutes, then add in the tomatoes and lemon.
- Cover and cook 10 minutes, then remove everything to a bowl.
- To the same saucepan, add half the saffron milk and the remaining 2 tbsp of oil along with 2 tbsp water and 1 cup of the cooked rice. Mix them together lightly with the spatula and spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan, Next, layer on half the remaining rice. Over that, add half the tomato-asparagus mixture.
- then continue to layer on the rest of the rice. Over the rice, sprinkle the remaining half of the saffron milk and then proceed to layer with the remaining tomato-asparagus mixture.
- Cover the saucepan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Cover with a tight lid and place over high heat for five minutes. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook 40 minutes.
- Once cooking is done, let the rice stand at least 10 minutes before you open and serve.