Laya’s Upside Down Persian rice in La La Land | Tahchin
This is tahchin, or upside down Persian rice. Tahchin is made with half-cooked rice that’s mixed with yogurt, saffron, and egg; layered with chicken or lamb; packed and molded (nice and snug) into a casserole dish; cooked in the oven; inverted into a serving dish; and garnished with barberries. Maybe also with slivered pistachios if available. Because: why not!
Tahchin is pretty yummy. One of my favorite Persian rice dishes. It used to be the treat I asked for on my birthdays.
Laya made tahchin for me when I was in Los Angeles. (Recipe: All the way at the end!)
This is my lovely friend Laya. In her kitchen. In the City of Angels. (Vicinity of Tehrangeles.) California. United States of America. Planet Earth. Universe. (What comes after the Universe?)
NOTE: The tahchin inverted in the serving dish.
NOTE: The plate of sabzi khordan – an eclectic mixture of radishes and herbs which is the ever faithful sidekick of all Persian meals.
NOTE: The green sticky tape over the camera on ye ol’ faithful laptop of mine. (Yup, still there!)
This is a closer look at the tahchin, and the aforementioned sabzi khordan (aka plate of fresh herbs and radishes.)
You know how you always find bottles of ketchup and mustard in a diner in the U.S.? Well, you would be hard pressed to find a mealtime Persian table without sabzi khordan. My father, for example, would not even conceive of such a travesty!
THIS: Is an up close and personal shot of my plate of tahchin in action.
THIS: Makes my mouth drool every time I look at it.
THIS: Is torture! TORTURE!
Note the pool of yogurt to the side. As is the wont of most Iranians (and certainly the wont of yours truly) yogurt is nearly always served and enjoyed alongside with most types of Persian food. Like a sauce. It brightens and crackle pops all the flavors & textures.
Let’s backup a bit …
This is Laya’s kitchen-gloved-hand placing the fresh out of the oven casserole dish containing the yummy upside-down-Persian rice on the counter, allowing it to cool off before artfully inverting it onto a serving dish.
NOTE: The fruit bowl. Perhaps you might detect the presence of narenj mixed in with the orange and tangerines. What is narenj you ask? More on narenj later. (Hope your scrolling finger is in ship-shape!)
Laya’s kitchen faces her backyard with a glorious to-die-for-view. Even washing dishes in this kitchen feels tantamount to a transcendental experience.
Speaking of the pool, here’s the portrait of Snoopy, an Iranian American hapoo, lost in thoughtful reflections by the edge of it: Upon arrival at Laya’s house I was warned that Snoopy, while friendly, required a period of getting-to-know-you before consenting to being petted. This protocol was duly noted and observed. (Canine & blogger forged a friendship by the end of the delightful visit, I might add.)
Snoopy, having come of age in an Iranian household, has a predilection for Persian food. According to family lore, Snoopy digs saffron flavoring and LOVES fesenjoon and ghormeh sabzi. (But I mean, who doesn’t?) For his Norooz dinner, Snoopy got to eat sabzi polo and mahee! THE traditional dish that’s served for the Persian New Year!
Here’s the mahee (fish) marinating in a marinade of saffron and freshly squeezed juice of narenj!
Mais, qu’est ce que c’est this narenj that I keep bringing up?
What is narenj? It is a citrus that tastes like a sour orange. But for Iranians, narenj is not just a citrus but the stuff of nostalgia, reverent appreciation (there’s a gorgeous palace complex in Shiraz called Narenjestan, named after the rows of beautiful narenj trees growing in its garden), fairy tales (I almost called this blog “narenj va toranj” after my most favorite Persian fairy tale), and its juice, peel and blossoms are all used to make dreamy culinary concoctions — from jam to sharbat to khoresht to āsh and marinade.
Pomegranate is the undisputed crown holder when it comes to being an iconic fruit and symbol of Iranian culture, but narenj is right there behind it, breathing down its back!
Come spring, the beautiful city of Shiraz and vast expanses of Shomal (the northern provinces of Iran) are fragrant with the scent of narenj blossoms … bahar narenj!
Speaking of the blossoms … ah yes! Let’s do speak of the bahar narenj blossoms! Just look at these beauties. Oh how I wish I could share their fragrance with you.
The heavenly scent of bahar narenj is indescribable. It is a witty, slightly mischievous, and soaring scent, if that makes any sense. It fills the lungs and the soul with a breezy smile! If that makes any sense! It smells like homecoming. If that makes any sense.
Speaking of things that are witty, slightly mischievous, entirely lovely and make you feel at home: here’s Laya again! Posing with her tahchin handiwork and good humor for her food blogger friend.
Note the red blossoms in the tree behind her. Venture to guess what they might?
Pomegranate blossoms! Entirely adorable! Last time I saw these pretty blossoms was at a garden party in Shiraz a year ago during my hashtag “Epic Trip to Iran” in a garden lined on both sides with blossoming pomegranate trees. That was a dreamy party, and honestly, this scene in LA was nothing short of dreamy either. I finally understand why so many Iranians live in Los Angeles. There are cypress trees, pomegranate trees, narenj trees; the mountain and the climate is reminiscent of Tehran; and with all the Iranians now living in LA, you can find everything (from noon’ e sangak to noghl to kooloocheh; from شیر مرغ تا جون آدمیزاد ) in the many Persian markets and restaurants all over Los Angeles.
In some ways the hustle and bustle of welcoming Norooz in Tehrangeles was on par if not even more vivacious than celebrating the Persian New Year in Tehran itself! I’m so behind with my postings but oh boy, given time, I so would love to tell you all about my Persian New Year adventures in Tehrangeles at some point.
What I can tell you right now is that Laya whisked me straight from the airport to an awesome Persian bistro where they made their own Sangak bread! Check out the proud noonva and his delicious handiwork straight out of the tanoor! Do note the thriving green sabzeh (a staple of haft seen) as well.
Laya and I dined on mast ‘o musir (yogurt mixed with a special type of Persian shallot which has an awesome bite and heat and tang to it. You can enjoy mast ‘o musir as an appetizer dip with bread, and you can also enjoy it as a condiment/sauce with your main dish. We did it both ways! The mast ‘o musir went most excellently with our yummy cholo kabab. (Akh! Yadesh be khair!)
Needless to say, shots were taken before a bite was taken!
But then: it was time to munch and demolish and DEVOUR!
Oh my! Just look at this!
This is torture anew. And my mouth waters anew as well.
Kind of going back to our featured recipe (oh yeah, this is a recipe post after all, ha ha), here’s a still life composed of a bowl of barberries soaking in water – one of the prep steps of the tahchin. What else do we have? The travel section of Los Angeles Times; the Norooz sprouting green sabzeh; and a regal orchid.
The orchid was a token souvenir we swiped from the Film Festival Award night of the Farhang Foundation Nowruz Festival that was held at LaCMA. Actually, going to the festival was the whole reason I was there in LA in March. Do you know why? I told you earlier about it earlier here. I hope to write a whole post about that and Farhang Foundation’s beautiful Persian New Year festival (they had created a gorgeous haft seen display for just one thing) and do it justice. But meanwhile, here’s a video from the first night of the event.
If you do watch the video, at the 0:14 mark you’ll catch a glimpse of me and Laya and then at 0:44 me and Mehdi (that is: Laya’s wonderful husband) and then at 1:45 mark I have a teeny tiny interview!
I liked and was impressed by all the 6 short film finalists but hands down The Role of Each Fret directed by Maryam Farahzadi was the most intriguing and powerful submission (I got goosebumps) and deserved the 1st prize win. I also loved, loved, loved Prelude (it was so clever and fun) directed by Arash Ashanti and produced by Ali Azimi. Totally recommend you watch both.
Between the cypress and narenj trees and Persian markets and Laya (and her entire lovely family) and Snoopy and the awesome Farhang Foundation (and the wealth of brilliant events and programming they offer) I’m so tempted to move to Los Angeles!
If not for the sun and commuting (averse to both), I’d be high tailing it to LA for sure. At least for a temporary jaunt.
But let’s say I moved there. Where would I live? Silicon Valley techies are snapping up all the L.A. homes!
And on this non-sequitur note, it’s time to end your scrolling finger’s vigorous work out and get to Laya’s tahchin recipe! Finally!
Tahchin: Upside Down Persian Rice (Laya's Recipe)
- 2 cups of long grain rice (washed, soaked, rinsed in the Persian style)
- 2 large boneless chicken breasts, cut into big pieces
- 1 small onion, peeled and coarsely quartered
- 2-3 teaspoons ground saffron, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
- 5 tablespoons yogurt (approximately a cup)
- one egg yolk
- 1/4 stick butter
- 1/2 cup barberries (soaked for 1/2 hour in cold water, rinsed and washed)
- tea spoon of sugar
- salt & pepper, cooking oil, and water
- Optional handful of slivered pistachios for garnish
- Wash and soak the rice per the usual Persian rice method: 1) Fill bowl of rice with cold water, gently scrub fistfuls between palms, rinse and drain. Repeat the process until the water runs clear. 2) Soak rice in lightly salted water for an hour and up to 24 hours. Rinse and drain when ready to use. Note: You could prep this step as early as a day before making tahchin. (Check out this post for a comprehensive guide and details of prepping and washing rice, Persian style.)
- Prepare the chicken: Cut 2 boneless chicken breasts into a few pieces. In a heavy-bottom pot add chicken, one cup of water, and one small onion coarsely quartered; sprinkle with salt; douse with 1/2 cup of saffron water; and cook over low heat for 3 hours till quite tender. Once cooked, remove and set aside the chicken pieces. Reserve 1/4 cup of the chicken broth for later use in a step below. (You can use the leftover broth and onions for another culinary adventure.)
- Prepare the al-dente rice: Fill 3/4th of a large pot with water and bring to a brisk boil. Pour in rice and cook – stirring occasionally – until the grains have lengthened and rice is al dente. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- Prepare the “mayeh” rice and yogurt mixture: In a big mixing bowl, whisk egg yolk lightly with a fork; add 5 tablespoons of yogurt and blend until mixture is smooth; season with salt and pepper, add the remaining saffron water (reserve just a teaspoon of it for the berberries for later though), mix well with the fork. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken broth (set aside earlier when preparing the chicken) to the mayeh at the end. (Laya says this is a nice trick to add tons of flavor and moisture to the dish since tahchin rice doesn’t use a lot of oil.) Fold in the al-dente rice – one spatula at a time – mixing it gently with the yogurt mixture as you add it.
- Melt 1/4 stick of butter in a casserole Pyrex dish in 350 degree oven. Remove casserole dish from the oven; slightly agitate the dish (in up and down and left to right motions) making sure the entire surface is coated with melted butter. [Laya says the moshkel (problem) with tahchin that many people have is that at the end it doesn’t come out in one piece when turned upside down and the solution to this moshkel is to make sure the melted butter is spread evenly all over the Pyrex dish.]
- Commence to fill the casserole dish in this manner: line bottom of the casserole dish with a one inch layer of the rice and yogurt “mayeh” mixture, then arrange a few chicken pieces over it. Continue layering in this fashion until you’ve used up all the ingredients. (Tip: Make sure the top layer is rice with the final chicken pieces nestled inside the rice to avoid burning the chicken.) Use the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to pack in and evenly flatten the surface. You can douse some melted butter over the rice at this point if you wish. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of a 350 preheated oven for one hour or until a golden crust at the bottom of the dish is detected. Remove foil and cook in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool off for a few minutes.
- Prepare the barberries garnish: While tahchin rice is cooling off, sautee barberry (that was soaked for 1/2 hour in cold water and rinsed) with a bit of melted butter and a bit of sugar for a few minutes on very low heat.
- Once cooled off, tahchin is (tah dah!) ready to serve.
Serving: Tahchin in Farsi literally means: “arranged at the bottom.” It’s translated as upside down Persian rice in English because when serving tahchin, you turn the casserole dish over and serve the rice upside down:
- Place an inverted large serving dish over the casserole dish and turn it over. Tap the casserole dish to loosen the contents inside. Hopefully the butter-lining trick has done its job and nothing will stick to the dish and you’ll get a nice (and intact) upside down molded rice with a crunchy rice tahdig on top! YUM!
- Garnish with a sprinkling of the sauteed barberries and slivered pistachios just prior to serving.
- Tahchin is sometimes translated as “Persian rice cake”, which is not too far-fetched, since tahchin is a dish served like a cake, as in: slice pieces off to serve to your no-doubt-drooling-with-anticipation table mates.
Tahchin rice pairs fabulously with yogurt. A green salad and sabzi khordan (plate of herbs and radishes) would be lovely edible companions to have on hand as well.
[Laya’s tip for grinding saffron: To finely grind saffron threads in a mortar and pestle Laya adds a sugar cube to it. This is a trick Laya learned from her mother – Mrs. Lavassani – an accomplished lady who started a school called Honarestan in Tehran, where Roza Montazemi, a revered Persian cookbook author, was one of her students. Wow!]
Make it, enjoy it, and nooshe jaan!