There was a time when I stacked unread magazines. Hoarded issues of The New Yorker, Bon Appetit and Harvard Business Review, for the thought of opening a single issue would send me into a state of apoplexy. My life, for a time, could not handle complexity. I was a fragile thing, prone to only managing complexity in small doses, so I have to say that after four years of living under anesthesia, it feels good to READ. It feels joyous to immerse myself in a magazine and make recipes that take an extraordinary amount of time, just because.
I’ll also have you know that I’m reading, which has been helping tremendously in terms of my story writing. In the past month, I’ve devoured Nick Flynn’s The Reenactments, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, V. Nabokov’s The Eye, Bill Clegg’s Ninety Days, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (re-read), among a pile of art books acquired in Paris, and I’m finally, FINALLY, keeping up with my Bon Appetit. Which brings me to this lovely dish made in the evening during a long, cold weekend.
I’m going to hold on to this feeling for as long as I possibly, possibly can.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup sugar
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into matchstick-size pieces*
1/4 cup dried barberries or 1/2 cup dried cranberries*
1/4 cup raisins*
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
NOTES IN THE MARGINS
Dried barberries, sold as zereshk, are available at Middle Eastern markets and kalustyans.com. However, I had dried cherries, Turkish apricots (which I finely diced) and golden raisins on hand, which made this recipe sing. I’d also use dried mango or blueberries, if you have them as well. Use what you have on hand when it comes to dried fruit instead of making the fuss of ordering items on online. Unless that’s your bag, in which case, Kalustyans is the BUSINESS.
Also, I used 3/4 cup of pre-chopped (cubed) carrots, if you’re looking to save a little time.
Be forewarned, this recipe will take a little over two hours from start to finish. Don’t cut corners, don’t NOT read the recipe — the joy is in the process, in the alchemy of taking simple ingredients to make extraordinary flavors and textures. This recipe was calming for me, methodic in a way that baking feels, so I invite you to take it easy, spend time with this because the results will be well worth the journey. You’ll love the candied taste of the orange peel, the smokiness of the nuts and the crunchiness of the rice and charred bits at the bottom of the pan. I felt AWAKE after eating this rice, it was that GOOD.
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, let cool, then coarsely chop. Spread almonds on the same baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 5–8 minutes; let cool. Set nuts aside.
Place rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until grains have lengthened but are still firm, 6–7 minutes; drain and rinse under cold water. Spread rice on another rimmed baking sheet; let cool.
Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from orange and thinly slice lengthwise (reserve flesh for another use). Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add orange zest and carrots, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, 15–20 minutes; drain and set aside (discard syrup).
Combine barberries and raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water; let soak 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place saffron in another small bowl and add 1/4 cup hot water; set aside.
Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 8–10 minutes. Add cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and 1 tablespoon saffron mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Reduce heat to low, add barberries and raisins, and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and orange zest and carrot mixture; season with salt. Set fruit and nut mixture aside.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of rice, spreading evenly; top with fruit and nut mixture, then remaining rice, spreading evenly. Using the end of a wooden spoon, poke 5–6 holes in rice all the way through to bottom of pot (to help release steam and help rice cook evenly).
Drizzle remaining saffron mixture over rice. Place a clean kitchen towel over pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and secure loose edges of towel on top of lid, using a rubber band or masking tape.
Cook until pot begins to steam, 5–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender and bottom layer of rice is browned and crisp, 30–40 minutes.
Scoop rice into a wide serving bowl, breaking bottom crust into pieces.
DO AHEAD: Fruit and nut mixture can be made 2 days ahead. Cover fruit and nut mixture and remaining saffron mixture separately and chill.