The King of all Persian dishes, Morasa Polow bedazzles the eye with twinkles of red, green, orange and gold. Morasa means jewels and it’s easy to see why this jewelled rice always makes an appearance at major Persian festivals especially weddings; its gems and sweetness is meant to be a harbinger of a sweet and glorious life for the newlyweds. Growing up in Singapore, I was lucky enough to have eaten this on a few occasions, usually during Eid and was always awestruck by the stunning beauty of the dish.
There is a fairly long list of ingredients, but as always, once you have everything ready, it’s pretty straight forward after that. We start the whole process in the same way that we would Chelow. Here, I am going to go for a simple tahdig of rice, fat and saffron. More about tahdig and how to cook Persian rice can be found in the Chelow post. I suggest you read that first.
It’s that golden crunchy bottom rice layer, the crowning glory of all Persian rice dishes!
In Farsi, tah=bottom and dig=pot
Pronounced ta-deeg. See the Chelow post.
• Dried Barberries
Zereshk or Sereshk, an important ingredient in Persian cooking, it is rather tart and is used in anything from rice to chicken dishes. It adds amazing flavour and colour. If unavailable, substitute with dried cherries or cranberries.
• Orange Peel
You could cheat here and get ready candied ones, the sort used in fruit cakes & panettone. I just make my own by peeling an orange, removing the pith, simmering in water with a tsp of sugar for 5 minutes – see step 5.
• The Nuts
These are supposed to be sliced into slithers after soaking them but I dispense with the soaking, preferring the nuts as they are, not sweet.
Almonds – I use store bought flakes and lightly toast them in a dry pan over low flame for 5 minutes.
Pistachios – I place them on a chopping board and roughly chop them.
• Soaking Rice
Traditionally, the rice is always soaked in salted water for at least a couple of hours before cooking. However, I have long dispensed with the soaking method, having found that I much prefer the final texture without. If you are a soaking kind of person though, go ahead, soak in cool water for a couple of hours with 2 tsp of salt.
Let’s get cooking!
Morasa Polow (Persian Jewelled Rice)
Serving Size: 4
• 500g Basmati rice, rinsed well
• 2 tbsp salt
• 2 tbsp liquid saffron
• 3 tbsp ghee or butter
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 medium onion, sliced
• 1 medium carrot julienned
• 2 tsp sugar
• peel of 1 orange, pith removed in thin slithers
• 30g dried barberries, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, then squeezed dry
• 30g raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, then squeezed dry
• 30g toasted almond flakes (see handy hints above)
• 30g pistachios, chopped coarsely
• 2 tsp advieh for polow
• 1 tbsp melted butter or ghee
• 1 tsp rose water
• 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
Fill a large heavy based saucepan with water, bring it to boil and add the rice. Bring it back to boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. If you’ve soaked your rice, check it after 3 minutes, get a grain and bite it, it should be soft on the outside and just resistant on the inside, not raw solid but almost cooked solid. If you’ve not soaked your rice, this stage will be around the 5 minute mark but every rice is different.
Drain the rice and set aside.
Dry the saucepan and add 1 tbsp of olive oil, still on medium heat and sauté the onions for about 5 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Add the second tbsp of olive oil and sauté the carrots for 2 minutes, then add 1 tsp of sugar, stir thoroughly and continue cooking for another minute. Remove and set aside.
If not using store bought orange peel, bring a small saucepan of water to boil with a tsp of added sugar. Add the orange peel in, simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
Time to cook the rice. Wipe the earlier saucepan dry and place on medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of ghee and 1 tbsp of saffron and swirl it around in your saucepan for a few seconds.
Add 2-3 ladles of the rice and flatten. If this is your first time, and you’re not so sure or not so fast, lower the heat while you layer up the rice & ingredients, to stop the tahdig from burning. We will keep aside a small amount of every ingredient for garnishing, about 1 heaped tbsp.
Cook the tahdig for about a minute, then add a third of your rice, gently, with a spatula, spreading it out.
Next, sprinkle half of every other ingredient on the list, apart from the garnish, remembering to leave out a tbsp of everything for later.
Follow again by the next third of the rice, then second half of the other ingredients (not the garnish) and finish off with the final third portion of the rice.
Using your ladle/spatula, bring the top rice layer to the middle, forming a conical shape. The reason for this is that traditional chelow pots were conical, giving you a wide base for your tahdig. Also given the long cooking time, whatever rice that touches the saucepan is going to crisp up slightly. So you want as much of the rice away from the edges as possible.
Using the other end of your ladle, poke some holes into the rice, these are the steam “vents”, to allow the steam to come through.
Wrap the saucepan lid up with the towel and place on the saucepan, ensuring it’s a tight fit. The towel is there to absorb any excess moisture, preventing soggy rice. Make sure your tea towel is nowhere near the flame!
Cook on that same medium heat for 5 minutes. This should be enough time for the steam to build up. My mum used to wet her fingers and touch the side of the saucepan and if it “sizzled” that meant there was enough steam.
At this stage, lower the heat right down and let the rice steam away for 45 minutes, giving you a rich brown tahdig.
At the end of the cooking time, take it off the heat, let rest for 5 minutes.
Dish up the polow onto a serving platter and scatter all the leftover ingredients all over the rice.
Mix the melted butter or ghee with the rose water and sprinkle all over the rice and garnish. Finish up with the pomegranate seeds.
Dish the tahdig up in a separate plate and break it up for the diners to help themselves to.