Growing up in Tehran, Naz Deravian watched her parents entertain groups of friends with meticulously prepared Persian dishes. Now a mother and wife in Los Angeles, Deravian loves to invoke these memories while cooking for her own family. Her new cookbook, “Bottom of the Pot,” features favorites like tahdig, a delicious crunchy rice dish that involves saffron and heaps of salty butter. But the hardest part of making Persian food? Getting family to help prepare the mountains of herbs.
Try two of Deravian’s favorite recipes from her new cookbook. First, Sharbat-e Sekanjebeen is a centuries-old concoction of honey (or sugar) and white wine vinegar simmered until slightly thickened, infused with fresh mint, diluted with water, and served chilled over ice and garnished with cucumber. Sharbat-e Sekanjebeen is touted for its healing benefits, such as cooling and restoring balance to the body. Many think of the taste as a Persian lemonade. To make a sekanjebeen cocktail, Deravian says to try a splash of vodka or a dry, crisp Lambrusco.
And for the tahcheen, Deravian says it can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. However, she prefers baking it in the oven because it can all be assembled ahead of time and simply slipped into the oven. Use an oven-safe 9 x 13 x 2-inch clear glass casserole dish if possible. The glass dish allows you to spy on the tahdig and check on its progress.
Honey and Vinegar Sharbat
Yield: 8 drinks
1 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover or orange blossom
⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 small bunch mint (plus extra for garnish)
Grated or sliced cucumber
Reduce honey: In a medium saucepan, bring the honey and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve. Stand close by, as the mixture can boil over very quickly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer briskly for 10 minutes.
Build the syrup: Add the vinegar, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the syrup thickens slightly.
Add mint and cool: Remove from the heat, add the mint, and cool to room temperature. At this point, you can discard the mint or keep the mint and infuse overnight.
Sharbat and chill: Transfer the sharbat (about 1 cup syrup concentrate) to a glass jar, cover, and store in the fridge. Remember to discard the mint the next day. The sharbat will keep in the fridge for 1 month or longer.
To make a pitcher: In a large pitcher, combine the sharbat with 6½ cups water, add a handful of cucumber slices (or grated cucumber) and mint leaves or any other summer fruits you like. Taste and dilute with more water if needed. Keep in mind that this sharbat should have a pleasant tang. Keep in the fridge to chill. Serve over ice.
For individual servings: In a glass, combine ¼ cup sharbat with about ¾ cup water and serve over ice.
Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken
Yield: 8 servings
3 cups white basmati rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
4 cloves garlic, chopped
10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (plus more as needed)
¼ teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in
2 tablespoons hot water (see page 17)
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 large egg
Ground saffron for sprinkling
5 tablespoons butter, divided
Ingredients for topping
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup barberries, picked through and soaked for 15 minutes, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
Handful of raw pistachios, roughly chopped (optional)
Prepare rice: Parboil the rice. Set aside to drain.
Prepare chicken: In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken, 23/4 teaspoons salt, and the pepper, and cook until the chicken takes on a little color, about 3 minutes on each side. Add the lemon juice and the saffron water, turn the chicken pieces well in the bright orange sauce to coat all sides, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer, turning once in a while, until the chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if needed. Cut the chicken into ½-inch-long pieces and set aside in its juices.
Preheat oven: Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack set in the lowest position.
Combine ingredients: In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, and a tiny sprinkle of ground saffron. Fold in half of the parboiled rice, and set aside.
More butter, please: Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in the baking dish and place in the oven to melt, about 3 minutes. Swirl or brush the melted butter all over and up the sides of the dish.
Build dish: Spread the yogurt-rice mixture evenly on the bottom of the dish, pressing it down firmly. Add a layer of the chicken pieces evenly over the rice, top with a layer of the plain rice, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of chicken juices, smooth the top, and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
Bake: Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the dish (if using a glass dish) to see if it is golden and crisp. Bake for an extra 5 to 10 minutes if necessary, but take care not to burn it. Take the tahcheen out of the oven, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Prepare topping: While the tahcheen rests prepare the barberry topping. In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the barberries, sugar, and pistachios, give a quick stir to plump up the barberries, and cook for about 2 minutes. Take off the heat.
Serve: Run a knife along the sides of the tahcheen to help release it. Place a large rectangular serving platter, baking tray, or cutting board over the tahcheen, take a deep breath, and flip. Garnish with the barberry topping, pour yourself something tasty for a job well done, and gather around the table with friends and family. Cut the tahcheen in 8 or more pieces and dig in.
Make Ahead: The entire dish can be assembled a few hours in advance and stored in the fridge, covered. Bring to room temperature before placing in the oven.
Prep Ahead: The rice can be parboiled, drained, and set aside a few hours in advance
until ready to use.