The more traditional way of making tahdig involves cooking the rice first. The dish is known for its addictive exterior crust, whose crunchy bite you’ll crave the second it’s set on the table. It’s quite commonplace in Iranian cuisine and serves as the centerpiece to many a meal, but most other rice dishes will seem too characterless after this one. A generous handful of fresh herbs adds to its charm.
- Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve with cold water until the water runs clear of the starch. Allow it to fully drain.
- Bring a nonstick pot of water to a boil, adding 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Tip the rice into the pot and stir to separate the grains. Place the colander back in the sink. After 2 minutes, check the rice; the grains should have stretched a bit but still be a bit opaque and feel hard if you bite into them.
- Quickly empty the rice into the colander and rinse out the extra starch with room-temperature water from the tap.
- Keep aside a third of the fresh herbs and mix the rest into the rice along with the dried mint and some salt to taste.
- In a cup, mix egg, yogurt, turmeric, cinnamon, and tomato puree together until smooth and consistent. Set aside.
- Add the vegetable oil to a nonstick pan over medium heat.
- Empty the tahdig mixture and the water to the pan, moving it around to cover the whole base.
- Tip the rice into the pan, forming a conical shape—a mound if you will—leaving room all around the edges for some steam to travel through. Turn the burner to medium-high.
- Using your finger or the end of a spoon, make a few holes on the surface, almost reaching down to the tahdig base.
- Cover the lid in a clean dishcloth, tying it tightly to keep the steam in. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and leave it alone for 1½ hours, without lifting the lid.
- After 1½ hours, unwrap and lift the lid, add a few knobs of butter, the reserved fresh herbs, and saffron water. Without touching the bottom, gently stir to mix so you end up with speckled yellow and white rice.
- Place a flat plate or tray on the top of the pot, and with one swift movement, turn the tahdig and rice out, and serve.
Michael Harlan Turkell is an award-winning photographer and cookbook author of the recently published, ACID TRIP: Travels in the World of Vinegar. He has photographed many prominent chefs’ cookbooks and hosts The Food Seen podcast on Heritage Radio Network.