In times such as these...the Tahcheen, To Persia with Love

I may have regretted many things , one of them being not to have visited Persia or Iran . I have often dreamed about Isfahan , Shiraz and Tabriz , the beautiful mosques , the domes , where my favourite colour blue has been personified there , where one of the most loved poets Rumi danced his way ...Persia has given me and the world so much beauty, even if its in my dreams....Oh Persia! , was one of the most glorious cultures dating back to 2000 B.C . It has been conquered by many and the Greeks, Turks , Romans or Babylonians have carried with them influences of its cuisine and culture back to their own lands.

It is an ancient culture and land that stretched to modern day India from where the carried back the knowledge of spices.. Indians benefited a lot from Persian cuisine that the Mughals brought with them which is enjoyed to this day .

Today , no one speaks of the riches of culture , color and poetry or the cuisine of Iran , which it is synonymous with ...only a sorrowful land that I can read about. A distance land , though not so far away from where I am , but distant enough for now..

For I know , that this will be over soon and Persia will be back strong as ever to remind us of its glorius past ...the blue domes, the soulful poetry , the fragrant spices , the bustling markets and for all that it gifted us ...

As I stand in solidarity with the people there , I prepared the Tahcheen, a regional specialty from Shiraz in Central Iran , a recipe from Yasmin Khans, Saffron Tales . A vegetarian alternative, replacing poached chicken with meaty aubergines and earthy mushrooms. According to her , Rice takes center stage in Persian cuisine, steamed , buttery saffron crust - or layered with vegetables, meat, herbs and spices . Elegant grains of light , dry , fluffy rice are a hallmark of Persian cuisine , where cooking rice is elevated to an art form .

Aubergine and Mushroom Tahcheen

By Yasmin Khan

Ingredients

400 gms Basmati Rice

1 1/4 tsp saffron strands

A pinch of sugar (I used jaggery)

3 tblsp freshly boiled water

3 medium aubergines , cut lengthways in 2.5 cm slices

Sea salt and black pepper

Sunflower oil ( I used olive oil )

45 gms butter

1 medium onion , finely chopped

3 garlic cloves , crushed

4 Portobello mushrooms , sliced into large chunks

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp allspice ( you can use garam masala too if you don't have this )

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper ( You can use Kashmiri red chilly )

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 egg yolks

200 gms Greek yoghurt

For the topping

15 gms butter

25 gms barberries

40 gms pistachios, roughly chopped

1 tblsp sugar ( I used jaggery)

To Prepare

1. Preheat your grill to medium high . Rinse and parboil rice and prepare the saffron liquid (Use a mortar and pestle to grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar . Add 2 tablespoons of boiled water and leave to steep.

2. Drizzle the aubergine slices with some oil and season generously with salt . Grill for 10-15 minutes , turning occasionally until the aubergines are cooked through.

3. Meanwhile , make the rest of your filling . Heat 2 tablespoons of oil with the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for about 10 minutes until soft . Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.

4. Add the mushrooms to the pan along with the turmeric , allspice , cinnamon ,cayenne pepper,1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a small pan for a minute and crush it and add it too.Cook until the mushrooms are soft and take it off the heat .

5. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C . In a large bowl,beat the egg yolks with yoghurt , saffron liquid , 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Fold the rice until it is evenly coated with the yoghurt and saffron .

6. Rub 15 grams of butter over the base and sides of a 2.6 litre oven proof glass dish , spoon half of the rice and press it down evenly . Add a layer of aubergines and mushrooms and finish with a final layer of rice . Dot with the remaining butter , cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the base of the tahcheen is crisp and golden brown .

7. When the tahcheen is ready , remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly while you make your topping .

For the topping :

Melt butter in a small pan and fry the barberries , pistachios and sugar or jaggery for 2 minutes until the sugar or jaggery has melted and the dried fruit has pulped up.

8. To serve , run a palette knife around the sides of the tahcheen to separate it from the dish . Place a large board over the top and quickly invert the whole thing. Garnish with the sprinkling of the topping..

Navroz Mubarak

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