Serves 6 to 10
– 12 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil, divided
– 1 jar (24-½-ounce jar) pitted sour or morello cherries in light syrup (see notes)
– 1 cup sugar
– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1-½ tablespoons salt
-3 cups long-grain basmati rice
-1 teaspoon saffron, ground, dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water
-½ cup water
– 1 piece Lavash bread or 2 large soft flour tortillas
– 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
– 2 tablespoons slivered pistachio
– ½ cup cherry syrup (from jar)
1. To clarify butter, heat in a small pan, removing the foamy whey that rises to the top. Set butter aside.
2. Drain the cherries; reserve juice. Place cherries and sugar in a saucepan. (No liquid is added.) Place over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts and begins to form a syrup. Cook for 35 minutes, stirring often. Strain the cherries over a bowl until no syrup remains. Save the syrup. Add 2 tablespoons butter and cinnamon to the cherries and set aside.
3. Rinse and strain 3 cups of rice 5 times in water. Bring 8 cups water and salt to a boil in a large, nonstick pot. (See note.) Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 8 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen grains stuck together. Taste a few grains. If the rice is semi-soft, it is ready. (It’s important that the rice still retains some bite in the center.) Drain immediately in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse with 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.
4. Place 4 tablespoons clarified butter or oil, ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon saffron water in the same pot. Place the Lavash bread or tortillas in the bottom of the pot to help make a golden crust. Lightly place 2 spoonfuls of rice in the pot, then add 1 spoonful of cherries; don’t press layers down. (Do not add syrup.) Set aside 2 spoonfuls of cherries for garnish. Repeat, alternating layers of rice and cherries in the shape of a pyramid.
5. Placing a kitchen towel under the lid, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. This will help form a golden crust on the bottom of the pan. Pour the saffron water over the pyramid and reduce the heat to low. (The saffron water will flavor only part of the rice.) Cook 40 minutes longer. Remove the lid and pour a mixture of ½ cup cherry syrup and ¼ cup melted butter over the rice. Cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Remove the pot from heat and allow it to cool on a damp kitchen towel for 5 minutes without uncovering it. Take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside with the rest of the garnish.
7. Gently taking 1 large spoonful at a time, place the rice on a platter without disturbing the crust on the bottom of the pot. Mound rice in the shape of a pyramid. Garnish with the saffron rice, cherries, almonds and pistachios. Pour ¼ cup reserved cherry liquid from the bottle, which has been heated, and 2 tablespoons clarified butter over the rice pyramid. Detach crust from the bottom of the pot with a spatula, break into pieces and serve on the side.
The cherries are available at Trader Joe’s or other specialty food stores.
If using a pot that’s not nonstick, such as a cast iron Dutch oven, use a diffuser so that the bottom crust doesn’t burn. It may still be difficult to remove from the pan, but can be broken off in sections and placed around the dish.
Adapted by Elana Shippen from “New Food of Life” by Najmieh Batmanglij