Then, I would go to my mother with these magical stories. She would pause for a moment, smile, and tell me one of her own ancient fables (the long versions!) to teach me lessons, bring me back to reality and put my feet firmly on the ground. One of those such stories was of Molla Nasr al-din, a satirical wise man who lived during the Middle Ages. His anecdotal stories are well known in Iran and many of the neighboring countries in the region. Here's a brief version of it:
Molla was invited to the house of a nobleman in his town. He chose to wear his warm, comfortable and shabby clothes. When he arrived at the door, the doorman quickly turned him back for he did not look prim and proper enough. Molla goes home and puts his best garment on with silver trimmings around his high fancy collar and his long sleeves. He combed his hair and put on some perfume and headed to the dinner party. When he arrived, he was well received and was offered the seat at the top of the sofreh (table cloth). To everyone's dismay, Molla scooped some soup out and poured it all over his jacket. Then he placed some rice in his pocket and topped it with some lamb stew. As he was stuffing food in his sleeves he was stopped by the nobleman who demanded an explanation for Molla's mad behavior. Molla responded, "When I came in the first time, with my comfortable home clothes, you didn't let me in the house. Now that I put on this fancy jacket I am suddenly treated with respect. Since these are the clothes that get recognized I might as well feed the food to the jacket!"
2 1/2 cups long grain white basmati rice
1 medium onion, peeled, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced pistachios, may be soaked in cool water to soften
1/2 cup slivered almonds, may be soaked in cool water prior to cooking to soften
1/2 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts *optional
1 cup barberries, may be found in middle-eastern grocery stores
1/2 cup raisins, I used a combination of both black and golden raisins
1/2 cup julienne-cut carrots
2 large oranges, wash, dry, makes about 1/2 cup julienne cut orange skin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 3-4 tablespoons of hot water
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed rose petals
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
- In a large bowl wash the rice with cool water a few times. Soak the rice in 6-8 cups of water, add 2-3 tablespoons of salt and set aside for a couple of hours.
- In a large pot bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil on medium-high heat. Drain the soaked rice and gently pour into the pot. Bring the water back to the boil for about 8-10 minutes or until the rice grains expand in length, the ends are soft to the touch and the center of the grain still has a bite to it. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water. Set aside.
- Peel the orange skin, remove the white part and cut the orange peel into thin stripes. Soak in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and repeat 2-3 more times.
- Combine 1/2 cup of sugar and a cup of water in a pan over medium heat, gently boil for 7-10 minutes or until the sugar dissolves completely and thickens slightly. Add the orange zest and carrots and cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and in a large skillet, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil, when hot saute the onions until golden brown, add turmeric and stir well. Add barberries, saute for 5 minutes on medium to low heat, add raisins, sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar on top and mix well.
- Mix in the carrots and orange zest. Sprinkle the spices, taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Add pistachios and almonds, mix well.
- In a large, non-stick rice pot, heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Gently layer the rice with the nuts and carrot mixture into a pyramid shape.
- Cook on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, lower the heat when you see the rice starting to steam. Pour 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 cup of water and the saffron over the rice. Cover the lid in a clean dish cloth or thick paper towels. Cover the rice pot and cook for 50 minutes over low heat. Don't open the lid before the rice is done cooking.
To serve, mound rice on a serving platter. Garnish and serve warm. Jeweled rice may be served with chicken, small meatballs, salad and yogurt.
Cook the rice separately and and garnish with the nuts, carrots, raisins, orange zest and barberries right before serving. Keep the mixture warm until ready to layer, garnish and serve.