16 October 2006
Paper Chef 22: oven-baked rice with barberries and butternut squash
Recipe created for Paper Chef #22, in the home category. Inspired by “Oven-Baked Rice” on page 152 in New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. If my rusty linguistics fieldwork skills are to be trusted, in Persian this dish would be named shirazi polow-ye zereshk-o kadu halvai. [pictures to come later]
Oven-baked Rice with Barberries and Butternut Squash, served on a bed of spinach
makes 6-8 servings
prep time: 1 hour 40 minutes (more if you pre-soak rice)
cook time: 2 hours 30 minutes
3 cups long-grain basmati rice
2.5 lbs chicken (i used breasts)
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp ground saffron, dissolved in 2 Tab hot water
1 lb 4 oz (565 grams) butternut squash (i used only the top portion of a butternut to simplify knifework, and this is what it weighed)
3 Tab oil
1 cup dried barberries (most of my 3 oz package)
1/2 butter (or oil or ghee)
1.5 Tab sugar (i used raw sugar)
2 cups plain yogurt
2 egg yolks
1 tsp ground cumin
1. Clean and wash 3 cups rice 5 times in warm water. “It is then desirable but not essential to soak the rice in 8 cups of water with 2 tablespoons salt, for at least 2 hours.” (Mine soaked about 1 hour, the duration of the initial chicken cooking [step 2].)
2. Place the chicken and 1 sliced onion in a saucepan. Do not add water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 50 – 60 minutes. If using a whole chicken, bone and cut into pieces. (I did not bone my chicken.) Sprinkle 1 Tab saffron water over the chicken. Set aside, reserving juices.
3. Meanwhile, clean sand from and soak barberries. (Place berries in a colander and place the colander in a bowl of cold water. Let soak for 15 minutes. (Any sand will settle to the bottom.) Rinse then drain.)
4. While barberries soak, peel squash. Cut into 3/4″ cubes. Brown slices in 3 Tab hot oil for 5 to 10 minutes (they should get brown and soften somewhat, but do not need to cook through.) Remove squash, then brown the remaining onion in the same pan until golden brown and soft, at least 10 minutes. When onion is done, stir together with squash and set aside.
5. Bring 8 cups of water and 2 Tab salt to a boil. If you soaked the rice, wash and drain it again. Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly, uncovered, for 6 to 10 minutes. Stir gently twice to loosen any rice that might be sticking. Bite a few grains – if the rice feels soft, it is ready. Much of the water will be absorbed. [Cookbook says to drain and rinse yet again – I skipped this step, which may explain the saltiness of my rice.]
6. While the rice is cooking, preheat oven to 350F.
7. While the rice is cooking, saute the cleaned barberries in 2 Tab of butter for 1 minute. Do not overcook! Remove from heat, add the sugar, and set aside. Set aside 2 tab of barberries for garnish.
8. Melt remaining butter in a deep ovenproof dish. (I couldn’t find my largest casserole dish, so used two smaller ones.)
9. Take 4 spatulas full of rice and combine with yogurt, egg yolks, and the remaining saffron water. Place this rice mixture in the ovenproof dish. Arrange chicken pieces on top. Spread the barberry mixture over the chicken. Arrange the squash and onions around the chicken. Cover with remaining rice. Sprinkle cumin over the rice and pack it down into the dish, using a spoon. Pour remaining chicken juices over the top of the rice.
10. Place lid on top of oven-proof dish to prevent steam from escaping, or cover with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the crust is golden brown.
11. Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes (do not uncover) on a damp surface.
12. While polow is cooling, saute chopped spinach (and arugula) in butter or oil (preferably in the skillet used to cook the barberries, in hoopes of picking up residual flavors). Sprinkle with cumin to taste. Add a splash of pomegranate vinegar at the end.
13. Loosen the rice around the edges with the point of a knife. (If you have an immobilized arm, you’ll need to have someone else do the next step!) Place a large serving platter on top of the dish. Hold the dish and platter firmly together and turn over to unmold the rice. Garnish with the reserved barberries. Serve hot, over or near the spinach. Nush-e Jan!