The trick here is to let a crust form on the base of the rice, which you then fold together with all the dried fruit and nuts. Enriched with ghee and saffron, and combining crunch and fluffiness, it's a side that competes for top billing with any main course.
- 400 gm (2 cups) long-grain rice, such as basmati, rinsed well
- 80 gm (⅓ cup) ghee
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-roasted and finely ground with a mortar and pestle
- 6 cardamom pods, bruised
- 4 cloves
- 50 gm each golden raisins and dried barberries (see note), soaked in cold water for 5 minutes
- Large pinch of saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 60ml boiling water
- 70 gm roasted slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
- 70 gm (½ cup) coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
- 1Boil rice in a large saucepan of boiling water until par-cooked (5-7 minutes). Drain well.
- 2Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, season lightly with salt and stir until softened (10-12 minutes). Add spices and stir until fragrant, then add drained fruit and half the saffron water and stir to combine.
- 3Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a large casserole over high heat. Add half the rice, spreading it over base of casserole, scatter with fruit mixture and half the nuts, then pile the remaining rice on top in a pyramid shape so that it doesn't touch the sides. Poke a few holes into the rice, pour remaining ghee into holes, then cook, without stirring, until rice smells toasted and fragrant (4-5 minutes). Drizzle remaining saffron water over rice, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Turn off heat, stand for 10 minutes, then transfer to a platter. Mix rice and serve scattered with remaining nuts.
Barberries, small dried red berries with a tart flavour, are available from select Middle Eastern grocers, delicatessens and online from pariya.com
Drink suggestion: Aromatic and rich pinot gris. Drink suggestion by Max Allen.