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Persian Cuisine continued...

“Food is central to the lives of Iranians in different ways: medicinal, cultural, philosophical, and historical”

Ariana Bundy the author of “Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes.”

Saffron Rice Cake

TAACHIN
YOGURT AND GARLIC MARINATED CHICKEN IN A SAFFRON RICE CAKE

Taachin means ‘to arrange everything at the bottom’. This is a savoury cake that’s perfect for parties for its stunning visual effect. It’s ideal for picnics too, as it’s easy to transport. Rice is layered with chicken marinated with yogurt and garlic and lots of saffron. There’s also a lamb and spinach version, as well as one layered with aubergine, which is a fairly ‘new’ recipe. You could also stud the rice with barberries as in Zereshk Polo (rice with chicken, saffron and barberries). For parties just prepare it in advance and put in the oven at the last minute – the presentation is guaranteed to impress.

There is much debate in our family as to whether onions and egg yolks should be included or not. I decided to do the version that I like best, with both onions and egg yolks.

800g (1lb 10oz) 4 cups
basmati rice, soaked in water
for at least 5 hours
500–600g (1–11/4lb) skinless,
boneless, chicken breasts,
cut into 8cm (3in) cubes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion,
chopped
1/2–1 tsp salt
few twists of pepper

1/2 tsp turmeric
6–7 small garlic cloves,
peeled and diced
1kg (2lb) 4 cups Greek
yogurt
1/2 tsp saffron threads,
pounded then dissolved in
2–3 tbsp hot water
75g (3oz) 1 cup dried
barberries (optional)
4 egg yolks

Cook the rice till al dente; follow the method for Polo Ba Taadig (perfect fluffy rice) up to draining and cooling.

Place the chicken, butter, oil, onion, some salt and pepper, turmeric and half of the garlic in a large frying pan. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes on a low heat. Tip the mixture into a bowl and cool for 10–15 minutes. Add the yogurt, the rest of the garlic and saffron liquid: mix well. Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

If using barberries, wash them as for Zereshk Polo.

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5. Take the chicken out of the marinade and set aside. Add the egg yolks to the marinade mixture with some extra salt and stir well. Then take the cooked rice and set aside 175g (6oz) 1 cup for later. Ladle the remainder of the rice into the yogurt and egg mixture. Fold it in, but be gentle so that the rice grains don’t get crushed, otherwise you’ll be left with a mushy cake. Stop as soon as the whole thing is amalgamated.

Take a non-stick baking dish and spread the reserved cup of plain rice over the bottom. Then add a third of the rice and egg mixture. Layering the dish in this way stops the rice and egg mixture coming into direct contact with the pan and burning. Add a layer of chicken pieces (and barberries if using) then a layer of rice again. Repeat until the dish is filled. Cover with a lid if it has one or wrap with foil. Place in the oven and cook for 1½ hours until the bottom is golden brown. When the dish is cooked, invert it over a plate immediately, so that the crunchy taadig (crust) at the base doesn’t go soggy.

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