Bright, vivid colors, a skillful use of aromatic spices, irresistible flavors coming from varied ingredient concoctions, and an eye-pleasing presentation with fresh herbs, dried rose petals, pistachios, almonds, or barberries scattered atop savory and sweet dishes. I love these things about Persian dishes. It is a beautiful cuisine. I find a lot of elements of it in my native Azerbaijani cooking.
One of my favorite Persian dishes happens to be tahcheen (or tahchin), an upside down baked rice. Typically, tahcheen is made with pieces of poached chicken sandwiched in-between layers of par-boiled rice, which is bound with plain yogurt and egg yolks, and perfumed with saffron. Once baked, the dish is inverted upside down onto a serving platter to reveal a crusty, golden bottom.
In the recipe here, there is no chicken. Instead, there is a thick layer of grilled meaty eggplant slices followed with a layer of spice-cooked fleshy portobello mushrooms, and this combination is scrumptious. The baked, inverted rice is sprinkled with a panoply of textures and colors – crunchy green pistachios and tender, tart ruby-red barberries add that extra taste and eye appeal. So beautiful!
The original recipe that I’ve tried comes from The Saffron Tales, by Yasmin Khan. I’ve only slightly modified it to my taste. What I did change is the method of cooking the eggplants before layering them with the rice. The original called for grilling the eggplant slices, and I chose to roast them in the oven instead. They all cooked on one baking sheet and at the same time, saving me a lot of time and effort. And I loved the result.
I hope you enjoy this delicious and stunning dish. Nooshe-jan!
This is one beautiful looking dish. Don’t you think so?
Here’s how the roasted eggplant slices look before they go in the rice.
Baked and ready to be inverted! Time to reveal the golden crust!
A peek inside reveals accurate layers of rice and vegetables.
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 2 egg yolks
- ¾ cups thick plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
- Saffron Water:
- ¼ packed teaspoon saffron threads
- A pinch of sugar
- 3 tablespoons boiled water
- 3 medium eggplants (around1 ¼ lbs), cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
- Salt and black pepper
- Olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 Portobello mushrooms (cups only), sliced into large chunks
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon allspice, ground
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons dried barberries
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon raw pistachios, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Prepare the Rice: Rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in a large bowl of lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon of salt for 15 minutes. Drain (do not rinse) and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the rice and cook for 4-5 minutes over a medium heat. Taste to test; the rice should be soft on the outside but still slightly hard and firm in the middle. Drain and set aside.
- Make the Saffron Water: Make a saffron liquid by using a pestle and mortar to grind the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar, then adding the boiling water. Cover with a saucer and leave aside to steep.
- Prepare the Filling: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the eggplant slices on it in a single layer. Brush the eggplants with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 25 minutes, turning the slices halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the rest of your filling. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan along with the turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
- Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a small pan for a minute over medium heat, tossing or stirring to prevent burning and then crush them with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder, and add them too. Cook until the mushrooms are soft and then take off the heat. (You will notice the mushrooms have turned very dark; this is ok).
- Assemble the Tahcheen: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the yogurt, saffron water, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Fold the rice in until it is evenly coated with the yogurt and saffron.
- Rub 1 tablespoon of butter over the base and side of a 10-cup (8-by-11-inch) ovenproof glass dish. Spoon half of the rice into the dish and press it own evenly. Arrange the eggplant slices in a layer (or layers), following with a layer of mushrooms. Finish with the final layer of rice and even the top. Dot with the remaining butter, cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until the base of the tahcheen is crisp and golden brown.
- When the tahcheen is ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly while you make the topping.
- Make the Topping: Melt the butter in a small frying pan and fry the barberries, pistachios, and sugar for 2 minutes until the sugar has melted and the dried fruit has plumped up. Remove from the heat.
- Serve the Tahcheen: To serve, run a knife around the sides of the tahcheen to separate it from the dish. Place a large board over the top and quickly invert the whole thing. Garnish with a sprinkling of the barberry and pistachio topping.