Come Into My Kitchen

For busy Fairway mom, making Persian tahchin is a reminder of childhood

Forough Zallaghi, of Fairway, and her 17-month-old daughter Ariana with her dish, tahchin. Tachin is a layered rice and chicken casserole flavored with saffron.
Forough Zallaghi, of Fairway, and her 17-month-old daughter Ariana with her dish, tahchin. Tachin is a layered rice and chicken casserole flavored with saffron. Special to the Star

Forough Zallaghi of Fairway is passionate about cooking.

She and her husband are both busy, practicing physicians. They have a 17-month-old daughter, so they appreciate the need for good meals and stress reduction.

What does cooking mean for you?

Cooking is my therapy. In medical school, cooking kept me sane and reduced my stress. Today, I love to come home after a busy day and cook.

What influences your cooking?

I am Persian, which is an Iranian ethnic group. It is an ancient culture and the food reflects its setting in the Middle East. I lived in Germany, then went to Los Angeles for school so my cooking reflects many cultures and international influences. I cook a wide variety of dishes.

What is tahchin and when do you serve it?

Tahchin is a layered rice and chicken casserole flavored with saffron.

Iran is a multi-cultural country and anywhere you go in Iran you will find this dish. It is baked in a pot so the bottom layer of rice becomes browned and crunchy, which is a favorite flavor and texture. It is a popular Persian dish and is one that is served for all our formal gatherings.

It is such a common dish that each family has their own favorite recipe. It reminds me of my childhood as my family served it frequently, and now, I prepare it often and my daughter loves it.

What gives the rice its distinctive golden color?

It is from the saffron that flavors the tahchin. I use a top-quality Persian saffron, which has a more pronounced flavor and darker color than many types of saffron, which often come from Spain. All saffron is expensive, but you use just a pinch.

Is tahchin always made with chicken and what do you serve with it?

You can substitute lamb for the chicken and it is equally delicious. It is a complete meal since it contains both protein and carbohydrate, so I just serve it with a fresh salad.

Where do you buy ingredients for your dishes?

I can find many of the ingredients I use, like the basmati rice, at regular grocery stores, but must shop at an ethnic grocery store for some of the ingredients, like the barberries. I have picked up some of the ingredients on my travels and now many ingredients are available online.

Tahchin

Makes 6 to 8 serving

Rice:

3 cups uncooked basmati rice

3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

Filling:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ medium yellow onion, minced

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon salt

1 egg

Pinch Persian saffron

½ cup plain whole milk yogurt

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Topping:

1 cup dried barberries (see tip) or dried cranberries or currants

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch Persian saffron

Yogurt, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the rice well and drain. Place the rice and 2 tablespoons salt in a large nonreactive bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to stand at room temperature 30

minutes. Drain, rinse the rice well and drain again.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and season with the remaining tablespoon of salt. Add the rice and cook until tender, but still chewy, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, rinse well, drain and set aside.

Make the filling: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring

occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt, and cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat until the chicken is done and no longer pink inside, about 10

minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the egg with the saffron and yogurt. Add the well-drained rice and mix gently.

Grease a nonstick, ovenproof 12-inch pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place about 2/3 of the yogurt-coated rice on the bottom of the pot and press the rice up the sides of the pot by 1½ inches. Distribute the chicken filling over the rice, leaving a 1-inch border, then top with the remaining cooked rice. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top layer of rice.

Cover the pot tightly with a lid or foil and bake for 90 minutes.

Allow to stand and cool about 15 minutes. Invert the tahchin onto a serving platter and remove the pot.

Combine the barberries with the olive oil in a small saucepan. Stir in a pinch of saffron. Over medium heat, stir frequently until the berries are warm and partially softened. Garnish the top of the tahchin with the warm barberries and then dollop with yogurt.

Tip: The chicken filling can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance; cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble and finish the recipe.

Barberries are a small, tart berry popular in Iranian, European and Middle Eastern cooking. Dried barberries, sometimes called zereshk, are available online or

locally at larger grocery stores or those specializing in Middle Eastern foods.

Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants who make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over 11 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com.

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