A few months ago, during a religious holiday, I was a guest at my cousin’s home in Tehran and lo, my cousin and her husband received a wonderful homemade goody from one of their acquaintances. That offering being none other than the good-looking edible object that you see in the photo. (The decorative fabric you see, by the way, is called “termeh” and it is a subject ripe for its own discussion.)
The aforementioned object was shaped like a loaf cake, garnished with slivered almonds and pistachios and a few dried rosebuds, and it was served by cutting it into slices like a cake. It felt soft yet densely firm to the fork and to the palette, and tasted at once soothingly bland and yet also boldly fragrant and it was just the right amount of sweet. A great symphony of subdued pizzazze! What was this manna from the heaven?
Turns out this particular dish is called “digcheh” — which is quite a cute name in that a pot in Farsi is “dig” so that “digcheh” literally means: little pot. It also turned out that digcheh is a specialty of the region of Iran called Mashhad; and that the Persian “little pot” is something that is typically made, gifted and partaken during the month of Ramadan and religious holidays.
Digcheh is somewhat similar to “shir berenj” (Persian rice & milk pudding) — except that shir berenj reminds me of a pure virtuous pilgrim and digcheh is far more sinful.
Digcheh is also reminiscent of “sholeh zard” aka Persian saffron rice pudding and both have a kinship with religious holidays except that digcheh uses milk and in texture it is far more dense and cake-like than the wobbly-mushy-squishy yellow delight that is sholeh zard.
What is digcheh made of? Digcheh is made with the following concise yet beautiful list of ingredients: rice, milk, sugar, saffron, rosewater and cardamom.
I asked my cousin Farzaneh for the recipe and she kindly got it for me from the lady who made it. In typical traditional Persian-homecook-recipe, the recipe is bluntly and impatiently succinct and at times complicated to follow. I have not yet had occasion to test this recipe myself but for those of you interested in trying it out, here you go, oh you taste-pioneers. Let me know how it turns out.
- 2 cups of rice
- 2 litres of milk
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1/2 spoonful of ground cardamom
- 3 tablespoons of saffron water (dissolve a soupcon of ground saffron in 3 tabespoons of hot water)
- 1/2 cup rosewater
- 2 tablespoons of oil or butter
- Wash the rice and soak it for 2-3 hours in cold water, then drain and cook over slow heat for an hour or longer till all the water is absorbed and rice is fully cooked and quite soft and mushy. Now gradually add the milk and mix well with the rice, then add the sugar. A few minutes later, add the ground cardamom & mix well. Now add saffron water and rosewater to the mix, bring to a gentle boil, add the oil (or butter), and on very low heat cook for an hour or longer so till all the saffron water/rosewater/butter moisture is absorbed by the rice.
- Remove from the heat and transfer to a pyrex or teflon dish and place in the bottom rung of a hot oven just long enough to crisp the bottom of the dish. Then move it to the top rung of the oven and heat till the top is crisped as well. Now remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once sufficiently cool, inverse into a serving dish and garnish with slivered almonds and pistachios. Ass little dried rosebuds as well for a further bewitching touch.
Alternatively, instead of using the oven, cook this dish just like rice and allow it to get crispy in the bottom just like with tadig, then cool and inverse into a serving dish and garnish with slivered almonds and pistachios.