The cooking of Persian rice is an art, quite different from other rice traditions. The rice is first parboiled and then steamed with other ingredients. Here I present this rice, or polow (cousin to the more familiar term pilaf), step by step.
• 3 cups long-grain rice • 3 cups fresh parsley
• 3 cups fresh cilantro • 3 cups fresh dill
• 20 scallions • 5 tablespoons melted butter
• 15 threads of saffron • 6 fillets of white fish
• juice of one lemon • 1 teaspoon turmeric
• 2 tablespoon canola (or vegetable) oil
First, measure the rice into a large bowl. Rinse with cold water several times until the water is no longer cloudy. Add some salt to the water and allow to soak for at least an hour.
In a separate pot, boil slightly salted water. Then strain the soaked rice (using a fine-mesh colander) and add rice to boiling water. Once water returns to a boil, allow it to cook for six to eight minutes, until al dente. Strain the rice again, adding cold water to stop the cooking process. Set this parboiled rice aside for a moment.
Chop all the herbs very finely and mix them with a bit of salt. In a mortar, grind the saffron threads together with another pinch of salt. Once ground, place this mixture in a small bowl and add four tablespoons of boiling water. Stir until a uniform bright color.
Now cover the bottom of a large pot with two tablespoons of melted butter and one tablespoon of the brewed saffron mixture. Add a layer of the parboiled rice. On top of the rice, add a layer of the herb mixture, then another layer of rice, and so on, until all ingredients are used up. (The final layer should be of rice.) Cover the pot well and cook on a medium-high flame for 10 minutes.
Open the pot and pour the remaining butter and saffron mixture over the rice. Cover again (this time with a towel to prevent any steam from escaping) and cook over the lowest possible flame for one hour.
Just before the rice is ready, clean the fish and heat the oil in a frying pan. Place fish fillets in pan and sprinkle with salt and turmeric. Fry a few minutes (depending on thickness of fillets) on each side until golden. Pour lemon juice into the hot pan and allow to reduce briefly, then remove from heat.
Serve a large mound of rice with each fillet of fish.
To read more about the Iranian New Year and the traditions surrounding its holiday foods, click here.