Persian rice: A dish that emphasizes individuality in a family-style setting. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

To the converted — and I’m not talking about the parboiled stuff — Persian rice is as much about embracing the painstaking process as it is about enjoying the final fluffy results. Persian rice demands a sacrifice of your time, a devotion to specific practices and a willingness to wait for your reward. It’s like the Old Testament God of grain-based dishes.

In the latest Immigrant’s Table, I profile Peacock Cafe chef and owner Maziar Farivar, who describes his journey back into his native Persian cuisine. Among other things, the chef had to learn how to make proper Persian rice — and then teach the method to his mostly Latino kitchen staff.

“For regular rice, we always wash the rice [once],” Peacock Cafe kitchen supervisor Edwin Asencio told me last week. “For the Persian rice, we had to leave it in the water for one hour, and we had to wash it . . . many times.”

“That’s why the grains,” Asencio adds, “they are separate.”

And separate grains are key. You want every single grain of Persian rice to exist independently from its brethren in the bowl, sort of like congressional interns in a group house. But proper Persian rice also sports a crusty bottom layer, known as tahdig, as well as splashes of colorful grains tinted yellow with a saffron solution.

In short, it’s not easy to make Persian rice. It took Iranian native Farivar about a dozen tries to get it right. I had no illusions that my first attempt would go smoothly, as I adapted a recipe from the “Persian Cuisine” cookbook (Mazda, 2006) by M.R. Ghanoonparvar, a professor of Persian and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin.

You can follow the step-by-step recipe after the jump.

I had just enough Iranian saffron at home for this recipe. (See full recipe below.) Last year at The Occidental, Behroush Sharifi (a.k.a., “the Saffron King”) sold me some of the precious few threads he had remaining in his dwindling stock. I used them to make the saffron solution. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Here's what the solution looked like after I ground saffron in a mortar, along with a pinch of sugar, and added two tablespoons of hot water. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

I bought a package of Jyoti “basmati supreme” rice, imported from India, at my local Whole Foods in Silver Spring. It’s marketed as “very long grain,” which is perfect for Persian rice. I washed three cups of the grains five separate times in warm water, then soaked the rice for an hour in salted water. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

After washing and soaking the grains, I threw the rice into a large pot of salted water and let it boil for 6 to 10 minutes. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

As the rice drained, I took the same pot (rinsed and wiped clean, of course) and covered the bottom and sides with melted better. Then I started spooning in the drained rice, making sure to keep it away from the sides of the pot. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Once the rice was mounded back into the pot, I took the handle of a wooden spoon and poked a number of holes all the way to the bottom. Then I added more melted butter over the mound. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

I took a kitchen towel and wrapped it around the lid to my pot. The towel absorbs moisture as the rice steams in the pot, preventing the moisture from turning the rice soggy. (The towel needs to be secured at the top to ensure it won’t fall and come into contact with the heat source.) (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Once the rice was done cooking, I reserved about two cups for the saffron solution and transferred the rest to a large plate, hoping the bottom had transformed into a crusty, golden layer. (Alas, I had very little tahdig.) Then I took the reserved rice, placed the grains in a resealable bag, added eight drops of the saffron solution and shook the bag vigorously. The method produced this gorgeous yellow rice, which I sprinkled atop my fluffy Persian rice, known as chelo in Iran. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The finished Persian rice — not perfect, but tasty and quite attractive. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Steamed Persian Rice

6 to 8 servings

Adapted from M.R. Ghanoonparvar ’s recipe for chelo in his cookbook, “Persian Cuisine” (Mazda, 2006).


Pinch sugar

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 tablespoons hot water

4 tablespoons kosher salt

3 cups extra-long-grain rice (basmati rice will work), rinsed five times in warm water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Use a mortar and pestle to crush the sugar and saffron threads into a fine mixture. Add the hot water and stir to combine.

Fill a large bowl with 8 cups of water and stir in 2 tablespoons of the salt until it dissolves. Add the rice and let it soak for an hour. Drain the rice.

Dissolve the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt in 8 cups of water in a large, nonstick pot and bring the water to a boil. Add the drained rice and boil for 6 to 10 minutes or until the grains are firm, but not crunchy. (The time will vary depending on the quality of the rice.) Stir the pot occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain the rice.

While the rice drains, clean the pot and add 1 tablespoon of melted butter to the bottom. Swirl the butter around to coat the bottom of the pot and about 2 inches up the sides. Spoon the drained rice into the center of the pot, making sure to keep it away from the sides. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke several holes in the rice, all the way to the bottom of the pot. Pour the remaining melted butter over the top of the rice.

Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the pot lid to cover it on all sides, securing the cloth with a clip or a rubber band to make sure it doesn’t fall onto the stove burner. Cover the pot with the towel-encased lid and cook the rice for 10 minutes over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and let the rice steam for another 30 minutes.

When the rice is done, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, scoop out two cups of cooked rice from the top and transfer it to a large resealable food storage bag. Invert a large plate directly over the open pot and hold it tightly in place. Invert the plate and pot together, and allow the rice to drop onto the plate. (Use a spatula to help loosen it, if necessary.) You should have a crusty bottom, which you can break up as you like or leave intact.

Add 8 drops of the saffron solution to the rice in the bag. Seal the bag and shake it vigorously until the rice is evenly tinted yellow. Garnish plated rice decoratively with the saffron rice as you please.

Serve the rice with kebabs or with Farivar’s lamb stew.

Here’s another perspective on how to make Persian rice, from Najmieh Batmanglij.