When I was in my very early teens, my summer job for several years was to help out around my father’s architectural studio. I answered phones, made blueprints, figured out how to use workable fixatif to make postage stamps reusable (not that I actually reused any, because that would be a felony), and learned some Farsi. There were two Persian architects who also worked in the studio, Kathy and Mohsen. I was intrigued by their Post-It notes written in Farsi. Noticing my curiosity, they bought me a Farsi reader, taught me the alphabet and the first few pages, and I was off on my own.
This summer, when Naz Deravian reached out to me about her first cookbook, Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories, I told her how happy I was to see a new book about Persian food. After a few emails, we discovered that we both had in common living in Italy (though now she lives in Los Angeles) and learning from the same Farsi reader! I am beyond thrilled to share her recipe for Tahcheen-e Morgh, or Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken. It is a baked dish which is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, layered with juicy chicken and saffron rice. With the barberries and pistachios on top and the golden color imparted by the saffron, the dish makes a stunning impact with minimal effort. —Kristina
For a chance to win a copy of Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories, respond to the following question in the comments section below by October 5th, 5PM. What culture/country did you dream about most as a child, and why? Was it inspired by a family trip? Maybe it was that International Day in sixth grade when you were assigned Greece and had to make baklava? Or model UN when you and your friends dressed up like the Italian flag with green turtlenecks, white cummerbunds and red skirts? The winner will be announced in the comments section, so be sure to check in again!
About Naz: Naz Deravian is a writer and actor born in Iran, who grew up in Italy and Canada and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She is the award-winning voice behind the food blog Bottom of the Pot, which won the 2015 IACP Award for best culinary blog. She has also been twice nominated in several categories for the Saveur Food Blog Awards. Naz has been profiled in The New York Times, Sunset magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler, among others.
Image above: Saffron threads, diluted in water. All images by Eric Wolfinger.
Image above: Bottom of the Pot
Image above: Naz Deravian
Image above: Dried fruits, including barberries
Image above: Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken)
- 3 cups white basmati rice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
- Kosher salt
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (plus more as needed)
- ¼ teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in 2 tablespoons hot water (see note in steps below)
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 large egg
- Ground saffron for sprinkling
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup barberries, picked through and soaked for 15 minutes, drained
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Handful of raw pistachios, roughly chopped (optional)
Parboil the rice chelo-style. Set aside to drain.
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken, 2 3/4 teaspoons salt, and the pepper, and cook until the chicken takes on a little color, about 3 minutes on each side. Add the lemon juice and the saffron water, turn the chicken pieces well in the bright orange sauce to coat all sides, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer, turning once in a while, until the chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if needed. Cut the chicken into ½-inch-long pieces and set aside in its juices.
Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack set in the lowest position.
In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, and a tiny sprinkle of ground saffron. Fold in half of the parboiled rice, and set aside.
Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in the baking dish and place in the oven to melt, about 3 minutes. Swirl or brush the melted butter all over and up the sides of the dish. Spread the yogurt-rice mixture evenly on the bottom of the dish, pressing it down firmly. Add a layer of the chicken pieces evenly over the rice, top with a layer of the plain rice, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of chicken juices, smooth the top, and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the dish (if using a glass dish) to see if it is golden and crisp. Bake for an extra 5 to 10 minutes if necessary, but take care not to burn it. Take the tahcheen out of the oven, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Make the Topping: While the tahcheen rests prepare the barberry topping. In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the barberries, sugar, and pistachios, give a quick stir to plump up the barberries, and cook for about 2 minutes. Take off the heat. Run a knife along the sides of the tahcheen to help release it. Place a large rectangular serving platter, baking tray, or cutting board over the tahcheen, take a deep breath, and flip. Garnish with the barberry topping, pour yourself something tasty for a job well done, and gather around the table with friends and family. Cut the tahcheen in 8 or more pieces and dig in.
Make Ahead: The entire dish can be assembled a few hours in advance and stored in the fridge, covered. Bring to room temperature before placing in the oven.
Prep Ahead: The rice can be parboiled, drained, and set aside a few hours in advance
until ready to use.
Note on Saffron: When ready to use, bring a small amount of water to a boil, turn the kettle off, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle the specified amount of saffron in a small glass or bowl, and add the required amount of hot water (not boiling water, which is said to kill saffron’s soul). Stir, cover, and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. This process releases the flavor, color, and medicinal properties of the saffron. This is your saffron water, and it can be added to the dish as indicated.
Excerpted BOTTOM OF THE POT: Persian Recipes and Stories by Naz Deravian. Copyright © 2018 by Naz Deravian. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Eric Wolfinger.