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'Most amazing rice dish' rich in nuts, fruits, spices

Suggestions for a simple couscous with carrot and nuts accompanied a recipe for Harissa Grilled Chicken in my latest podcast.

And while I’m all for simple, I also love a really good grain-based side dish, even one that requires multiple steps toward the final product. Such is the case with Jeweled Rice, which food writer Daniel Neman proclaimed perhaps the “most amazing rice dish” he had ever made for a 2014 story.

What makes basmati rice this good? Pistachios and almonds, orange peel and julienned carrots, cooked together in a light syrup to enhance their sweetness, plumped-up raisins and dried cranberries. And cardamom, saffron, cumin and turmeric. Yes, there’s some work involved, Neman concedes. But it’s totally worth it.

Jeweled Rice has carrots in common with the aforementioned couscous recipe. And given Harissa Grilled Chicken’s inclusion of yogurt, I have to believe that it evokes tandoori chicken, a natural with basmati rice — even better with this rice, which is more closely aligned with Persian cooking. I say that’s the beauty of globally inspired menus: bringing the world’s best culinary traditions to the same table.

Note that the fruit-and-nut mixture (through step No. 6) can be made up to 2 days in advance; cover mixture and remaining saffron mixture separately; chill before proceeding with cooking the rice.

Jeweled Rice

1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios (see note)

1/4 cup slivered almonds

2 cups uncooked basmati rice

Kosher salt, as needed

1 orange

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-sized pieces

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until just beginning to brown, for about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, let cool, then coarsely chop. Spread the almonds on same baking sheet and toast until golden brown, for 5 to 8 minutes (watch carefully; they can burn). Set nuts aside.

Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until grains have lengthened but are still firm, for 6 to 7 minutes; drain and rinse under cold water. Spread rice on another rimmed baking sheet; let cool.

Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from the orange and thinly slice zest lengthwise (reserve flesh for another use). In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and 1 cup water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add orange zest and the carrots, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and set aside (discard syrup).

In a small bowl, combine the cranberries and raisins and cover with hot water (not boiling); let soak for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place the saffron in another small bowl and add 1/4 cup hot water; set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion, season with salt and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cardamom, cumin, turmeric and 1 tablespoon saffron mixture. Cook, stirring continuously, until fragrant, for about 1 minute.

Reduce heat to low, add cranberries and raisins, and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and orange zest and carrot mixture; season with salt. Set fruit and nut mixture aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, wide, heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of rice, spreading evenly; top with fruit and nut mixture, then remaining rice, spreading evenly. Using end of a wooden spoon, poke 5 to 6 holes in rice all the way through to bottom of pot (to help release steam and help rice cook evenly).

Drizzle remaining saffron mixture over rice. Place a clean kitchen towel over pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid and secure loose edges of towel on top of lid, using a rubber band or masking tape.

Cook until pot begins to steam, for 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender and bottom layer of rice is browned and crisp, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Scoop rice into a wide serving bowl, breaking bottom crust into pieces.

Tribune News Service photo