This fragrant, herb-laced steamed rice dish is typically served with fish during the Persian new year, but it’s also great anytime with saffron chicken, kuku sabzi (Persian herb frittata) and lamb. Persian-style rice is known for its crispy bottom, or tahdig. It’s everyone’s favorite part. Adding a layer of lettuce to sabzi polo, as I’ve done in this recipe, is commonplace in Iran. I also steam a few heads of garlic with the rice. The perfectly soft and mellow cloves are wonderful squeezed onto the dish before or after it’s served. A nonstick pot helps make for an easy release and impressive tahdig.
Rinse the rice 3 to 5 times to remove any excess starch. Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with water and bring to boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the rice and boil until al dente (when you press a grain of rice between your thumb and index finger, it should break in half, but still be firm), about 8 minutes.
Drain the rice using a colander and reserve the pot. Add the parsley, chives, dill, cilantro and cumin to the rice in the colander and gently stir using a large spoon, being careful not to break the grains.
Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of the oil and arrange the romaine leaves over the bottom of the pot. Gently top with the rice mixture, keeping it loose and fluffy. Break up the heads of garlic into cloves, leaving the cloves unpeeled. Place the garlic cloves on the rice mixture, then poke 5 holes in the rice with the end of a wooden spoon so steam can escape (the holes should be about 1/2 inch above the lettuce). Wrap the pot lid in a clean kitchen towel and cover the pot.
Raise the heat to medium-high. When steam starts to escape from the pot in about 5 to 10 minutes, drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/3 cup water over the rice mixture. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, covered, until the rice is completely cooked and fluffy, 25 to 35 minutes.
Transfer the pot to a trivet on the counter and let sit for 10 minutes.
Take the garlic cloves out of the pot and set them aside. Invert a platter larger than the circumference of the pot over the top of the vessel. Holding the platter firmly against the pot, carefully and decisively flip the pot over and set the platter on the counter. Carefully lift the pot; the rice should now be on the platter with the lettuce facing up. You can also simply scoop out the rice from the pot onto a platter, then place the lettuce tahdig on the rice or on a separate platter. Each person can squeeze the flesh of the garlic cloves onto the rice on their plate, mix and enjoy.
Two tablespoons of salt in the water might seem a lot, but it’s the right amount to flavor the rice.
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