Shirin Polo - Persian Sweet Rice
4 cups basmati rice
1 pound carrots cut matchstick thin
½ cup barberries (soak in cold water for 5-10 minutes, rinse a few times, drain)
½ cup raisins
½ cup cranberries
½ cup slivered almonds
2 large onions chopped
3-4 tablespoons orange peel cut matchstick thin
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground saffron (dissolve almost all of it in 2 tablespoons hot water but save pinch or two in its dry form)
Wash rice with cold water, using your hands to swish it around. Repeat several times until the water runs clear. Drain. Or soak washed rice in cold water and 1 tablespoon salt for half-hour to an hour.
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Gradually and gently, add the rinsed rice. Bring to a gentle boil again and boil rice for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally and gently. Drain in a colander. Pour 2 to 3 cups of tepid water over the rice in the colander. Drain again.
In a large pot, bring ½ cup water and 2 tablespoons oil (plus an optional but recommended tablespoon or more of butter) to a boil. Then, one spatula of rice at a time, arrange rice in the pot by first covering the bottom of the pot, using a spatula to spread it. Then, layer the rest of the rice to taper on top in the form of a quasi pyramid or dome. Make several wells in this rice dome with the handle of a wooden spoon.
Cover and cook the rice over medium heat until rice steams usually around 20 minutes. Keep a watchful eye. Once steaming, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook for another half-hour until rice is fully cooked. One test for when the rice is properly done is to moisten finger tip and touch the pot. If you hear a "pszzst" sound, the rice is ready. When done, turn off heat and let rice rest in the pot for 5 minutes. Then, wet a kitchen towel with cold water and place pot on top of the towel. The pot should make a fizzing "pszzst" sound again. That'd be a good sign.
Next, heat olive oil plus an optional dab of butter in a large skillet. Add carrots and saute over medium heat until pliant -- usually around 5 minutes. Add the orange peel, cranberries, raisin and chopped onion.
In another skillet, heat olive oil with yet another optional touch of butter till hot. Reduce the heat and saute barberries with 1 tablespoon sugar on low flame, stirring frequently for no longer than a minute. Set this aside.
Once the rice is ready to be served, place 2 spatulas of rice in a small dish and sprinkle the rice with saffron water, using a fork to fluff the rice grains and evenly color it with saffron water. This saffron-colored rice will be used to top rice as a decorative dome. Set this aside.
To create the platter, take one spatula full of rice at a time, arranging a layer of rice topped with a sprinkling of the carrot mixture and barberries. Then add another layer of rice and top it again with carrots and barberries. Repeat until you've used all the rice. Once you get to the "tah dish," the crunchy crust at the bottom of the pot, gently detach that in as intact a shape as you can and serve in a separate platter.
Finish off the rice platter by topping it with the saffron-colored rice you set aside earlier. Using your hands or a spatula, mound the rice back to the shape of a dome. Garnish rice with the remaining barberries, carrot mixture and slivered pistachio and almonds.
To make this dish more scrumptious and moist, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and pour evenly over the serving platter. Serve hot. This can be served with or without cooked chicken.
Serves 4 to 6