Kernels of the Bride: Crispy-Bottomed Rice

Music Pairing: Sari Gelin, Yellow Bride

Story

Weddings, engagement parties, birthdays, Sunday family dinners: the crispy rice is a non-negotiable staple in Azerbaijan.  Every matriarch, every hostess has a version passed down from generations: served savory and sometimes sweet (with added dried fruits).  As we chose this recipe to share, Afa was recalling the unforgettable wonder Aaron’s face expressed when he first tried Afa’s mom’s gazmah.  On a visual and sensory level, it was new, surprising, unusual and memorable.  A dear Persian friend, Hedieh serves this classic often a bit differently, at times with added greens and with traditional Persian accompaniments, including the royally luscious version served for Nowruz, the beloved New Year celebration in March.  The music we chose is both nostalgic and poignant to us.  Sari gelin (yellow or golden bride), is a traditional Azeri folk tune.  In Afa’s home, it was played in many different versions, but this one in particular, stands out as its beauty is interpreted and shared by singers from many different countries.  It celebrates diversity and the universe love of music, which spoke to both of us.  The lyrics speak to a forbidden love and a longing for a bride a particular groom may not have, as the family would not accept a groom from a far-away village.  A roughly translated excerpt says “the ends of your long hair are not meant to be woven, the flower-buds are not to be plucked, o yellow (or golden) bride: what kind of love is this? They will not give you to me: what can I do, what should I do?” As we both dealt with early challenges of an interracial/intercontinental/intercultural marriage, while earning the blessings of Afa’s family, this song stood out as both a reminder of the difficult days, the eventual familial acceptance, with the ultimate gratitude of our love and union.

Recipe

  • 4 C basmati rice
  • 8 C cold water
  • ½ stick butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic (optional)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T Salt
  • 1 pinch of saffron (15-20 medium sized strands)
  • 2 T sumac (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a metal colander, thoroughly rinse and drain the measured rice in cold water.  Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl or a saucer, submerge the saffron in hot water for 20 minutes
  3. In a prepped rice cooker, melt the butter, but be sure it is only thoroughly heated and not burning
  4. If using garlic, add it gently to the butter
  5. Gently begin adding the well-rinsed rice to the rice cooker, in 2 phases.  After adding the first portion, add the salt and ½ of the saffron mixture.  Gently add the rest of the rice followed by the rest of the saffron mixture and the oil
  6. Cover the rice well with the lid and set it to steam.  Immediately as the rice is done steaming, change the setting to sauté, but do so without removing the lid, as you want to prevent the steam from escaping
  7. Allow the rice to finish cooking, with the estimated time being approximately 1.5 hours.  If using larger amount, you may wish to continue the sauté process an extra 30 minutes (which will ensure that your bottom is beautifully golden and crispy).  The bottom is referred to as “tahdig” in Iran and “gazmah” in modern day Azerbaijan (Afa’s homeland).
  8. Once the cooking process is complete, you will need a larger platter to literally flip the rice over (upside down) and serve it with the crispy side up.  If using sumac, you may wish to sprinkle it on top for a tangy flavor.  Enjoy with curries, chicken and meat stews or a piece of beautifully broiled or pan-seared fish.

If you do not own a rice cooker, fear not: the recipe can be modified as follows:

  1. Add the water with the salt to a large saucepot and bring to a boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water, giving a stir. Let cook until the water begins to bubble again, about 3 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse briefly with cold water. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. Place a 6-quart nonstick pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and half of the saffron water (plus garlic, if using). Swirl to melt and completely coat the bottom and slightly up the sides of the pot. When the butter is heated, add enough rice to coat the bottom of the pot evenly.  Press down firmly with a spatula or a measuring cup to compact the rice and press about 2 inches up the sides to form a crust. Gently spoon the remaining rice over the top.  Cover the pot with the lid and cook for about 10-15 minutes
  3. Add the oil and turn the heat to low
  4. Drizzle the rest of the saffron butter into the rice. Cover with the lid and continue to cook, rotating the pot every so often for even browning, until the crust is deeply golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the lid. Let stand 5 minutes, then follow the same platter/serving procedure.

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