The Persian New Year begins the first day of Spring and continues for thirteen days. Each day is celebrated with a different custom. During the celebration a "Khoresh" which is the Farsi word for stew is served. The showstopper of the feast is not the khoresh, but the accompanying rice, chelow. For centuries young Persian brides were judged by their mother-in-laws on the success of their chelow. The crust - the tah dig - is the prized currency and is given to the prized guest.
Our daughter Anne invited us to dinner and we were served this menu. The meal was more than just "wonderful". Anne executed the meal to perfection. I will share the recipes Anne used.
Persian Eggplant And Lamb Stew
3 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 large lamb shanks
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 cups organic tomato juice, as needed
4 tablespoons lemon juice
9 small Italian eggplants or 3 standard eggplants
1 teaspoon advich (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Dry meat with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
In a Dutch oven, brown meat in 3 tablespoons of the oil until it caramelizes on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add onions and cook until translucent, then add garlic and cook, stirring a minute or two more. Pour off excess oil. Return lamb to pot and add salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron water, tomato juice, stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cook, covered for three hours.
Meanwhile, peel eggplant and slice lengthwise into three pieces if using Italian eggplant and five if using standard ones. Lay pieces side by side on paper towel. Sprinkle eggplant with salt and let set for thirty minutes. This will remove any bitterness. Rinse eggplant and thoroughly pat each slice dry.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil and saute the eggplant, shaking the pan to toss until the eggplant turns a rich gold. (This takes a bit longer than you might expect, as it will need to be done in batches.) Set aside.
Stir advich spice mix into khoresch and season to taste. Then add eggplant, stirring gently to combine. Cover and bake for thirty minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. (You may reduce heat to 200 degrees and continue to bake, uncovered, until your guests are ready, for up to 30 minutes more.
Advieh (Persian Spice Mix)
2 tablespoons ground dried rose petals
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground angelica
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried Persian lime powder
Thoroughly mix the spices together. Store what you don't use in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Note: these spices are available from kalustyans.com
Yogurt and Cucumber Accompaniment
1 long seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup raisins
3 cups plain yougurt, preferably full fat
2 tablespoons chopped scallions, the white part only
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
3 tablespoos fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, the petals from a few dried rosebuds for garnish (optional)
Mix all ingredients together, except for the rosebuds. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Garnish just before serving.
Chelow (Gold Crusted Basmati)
4 cups long grain basmati rice
8 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons plain, full fat yogurt
1 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
1 cup butter, vegetable oil, or ghee
Rinse rice five times in lukewarm water.
Parboil rice in the water and salt for 6 to 10 minutes, just until soft to the bite. Rinse under cold water for a minute or two.
In a small bowl, mix yogurt, 3/4 cup of the butter or oil, 1/2 cup water and about 1 cup parboiled rice. Spread mixture over the bottom of a non-stick Dutch oven and pack it down. This will be the golden crust once the rice is cooked.
Mound remaining parboiled rice into a pyramid shape in the pot. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium-heat to form a golden crust.
Dissolve remaining butter in 1 cup hot water and pour over rice pyramid. Do same with saffron water. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and cover firmly with a lid. Cook over medium-low heat for 50 more minutes.
Remove pot from heat. Allow it to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering. Then holding a serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot, invert the two together, unmolding the rice onto a platter.
The rice will emerge as a golden crusted cake. If this does not happen, break the crust into pieces and serve it on the side. It will be every bit as good.