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Saffron Steamed Plain Basmati Rice

['3 cups long-grain white basmati rice', '8 cups cold water', '2 tablespoons salt', '3/4 cup vegetable oil, butter, or ghee', '2 tablespoons plain yogurt', '1/2 teaspoon ground saffron threads', 'dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water']

1. Pick over the rice carefully to remove its many small solid particles of grit.
2. Wash the rice by placing it in a large container and covering it with lukewarm water. Agitate gently with your hand, then pour off the water. Repeat five times until the rice is completely clean.
3. In a large nonstick pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Add the rice to the pot and boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen any grains that stick to the bottom. Once the rice rises to the top of the pot, it is done.
4. Drain the rice in a large, fine-mesh strainer and rinse with 3 cups lukewarm water.
5. In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup oil, 2 spatulas full of the rice, the yogurt, 1/2 cup lukewarm water, and 1 tablespoon of saffron water. Spread this mixture over the bottom of the rice pot. This will form the golden crust, or tah dig.
6. One spatulaful at a time, gently mound the remaining rice onto the tah dig layer. Shape it into a pyramid to leave room for the rice's expansion.
7. Cover the pot and cook the rice for 10 minutes over medium heat.
8. Mix 1 cup cold water with 4 tablespoons oil and pour over rice. Sprinkle on the remaining saffron water. Place a clean dishtowel or 2 layers of paper towel over the pot to absorb condensation, and cover with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Reduce the heat to low and cook 50 minutes longer.
9. Remove the pot from the heat and cool it, still covered, on a damp surface for 5 minutes to loosen the crust.
10. There are two ways to serve the rice. The first is to hold the serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot and invert the two together, unmolding the entire mound onto the platter. The rice will emerge as a golden-crusted cake, to be garnished with edible flowers and herbs, then served in wedges. The second serving style is to spoon the rice into a pyramid on the serving platter, taking care not to disturb the bottom crust as you do so. After the pyramid is shaped, detach the crust with a wooden spatula and arrange it in pieces around the pyramid or serve it on a small side platter.
NOTE: You can use any kind of pot to make this rice, but nonstick pots make unmolding the rice much easier.
NOTE: If using American long-grain rice, wash the rice once only.
NOTE: To reheat leftover rice, place it in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water and place over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 1 1/4 hours
3 cups long-grain white basmati rice 4 cups cold water 1 tablespoon salt 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, butter, or ghee 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron threads, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1. Pick over and wash the rice as per the master recipe above.
2. In the rice cooker, combine the rice, water, salt, and oil. Gently stir with a wooden spoon until the salt has dissolved. Start the rice cooker.
3. After 1 1/4 hours, pour saffron water over the rice. Unplug the rice cooker.
4. Keep the cooker covered and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
5. Remove the lid, hold the serving platter tightly over the pot and invert the two together, unmolding the entire mound onto the platter. The rice will emerge as a golden-crusted cake, to be garnished with edible flowers and herbs, then served in wedges. NUSH-E JAN!
NOTE: If using American long-grain rice, wash the rice once only and use only 3 cups of water in Step 2.
Variation:Saffron Steamed Brown Basmati RiceFor 3 cups of brown basmati rice, use 6 3/4 cups water in Step 2. The amounts of salt, oil, and saffron water remain the same.
•Batmanglij highly recommends using a rice cooker for this recipe — it's easier, and the nonstick, evenly heating surface ensures a good crust. She favors the National Deluxe brand — if you're using a different brand, check the instructions, as you may need to change the measurements and cooking times. •Though many Iranians now use vegetable oil, clarified butter (ghee) is Iran's traditional cooking fat. To make it, start with a third more unsalted butter than you will need for the recipe. Melt the butter over low heat, then increase the heat to medium low and simmer the butter, without stirring, until it stops crackling and the milk solids brown and drop to the bottom. Skim off any foam from the top, and strain the ghee through a colander lined with cheesecloth. Ghee will keep at room temperature, covered, for several months. •Batmanglij prefers Persian full-fat drained yogurt, which is thicker than the American variety. American nonfat yogurt can be substituted for a less rich flavor. •Batmanglij recommends buying saffron in thread form rather than powder, which is often adulterated with turmeric. Before they can be used in a recipe, the threads must be ground with a cube of sugar, using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and then diluted in hot water. "The saffron water can then be stored and used as needed," says Batmanglij. "Never use the unground threads."

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