A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to delve into a stack of Food & Wine issues that I've been way too busy to even open for months. I got inspired. Called over a few good friends and made a Sunday feast fit for a (Persian) King. I actually ended up with NO Food & Wine recipes on the menu—this dish was adapted from Bon Appetit—but there was something similar in the latest issue that sparked my fire as I'm Obsessed (yes, capital O) with the jewelled rice at Byblos in Toronto and got insta-homesickness the minute I was reminded of it's sweet, delicate, crunchy, nutty, buttery goodness...
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cups basmati rice
1/3 cup honey
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into matchstick-size pieces
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
Rinse your rice in a sieve under cold water until water runs clear. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, 6–7 minutes. The rice will still be FIRM. Drain and and spread on a baking sheet to let cool.
While the rice is cooling, zest the orange and set aside. Bring honey and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add orange zest and chopped carrots, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, 15–20 minutes; drain and set aside (you can discard the honey).
Put raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water; let soak 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place saffron in another small bowl and add 1/4 cup hot water; set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive or coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 8–10 minutes. Add cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and 1 tablespoon saffron mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Reduce heat to low, add raisins and cook, stirring often, for 3-5 more minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and orange zest and carrot mixture; season with salt. Set fruit and nut mixture aside.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of rice, spreading evenly; top with fruit and nut mixture, then remaining rice, spreading evenly. Using the end of a wooden spoon, poke 5–6 holes in rice all the way through to bottom of pot (to help release steam and help rice cook evenly).
Drizzle remaining saffron mixture over rice. Place a clean kitchen towel over pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and secure loose edges of towel on top of lid, using a rubber band or masking tape.
Cook until pot begins to steam, 5–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender and bottom layer of rice is browned and crisp, 30–40 minutes.
Scoop rice into a wide serving bowl, breaking bottom crust into pieces, toss in the pomegranate seeds and serve.
Serves 6 ppl.