Celebrating the Season: In Los Angeles, Actor and Food Blogger Naz Deravian Hosts a Holiday Party, Persian-Style

By Mateo, Meg J. | Sunset, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Celebrating the Season: In Los Angeles, Actor and Food Blogger Naz Deravian Hosts a Holiday Party, Persian-Style


Mateo, Meg J., Sunset


It's all about the rice," says Naz Deravian as she turns a pot upside down onto a platter. Saffron scents the air as she lifts the pot, revealing the tahdig, a dome of crunchy golden rice. Her mother, Monir Taha, claps happily. "Tahdig is never guaranteed, but when it happens, it's magic," says Deravian, who is so enamored of the delectably crisp shards of rice that she named her food blog Bottom of the Pot.

The ta-da moment comes just as guests gather at Deravian and husband Drew Wicks's Los Angeles home for Yalda, a Persian celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. "Traditionally, you tell stories and jokes, dance to music, and read poetry until dawn," Taha, a poet and lyricist, explains. Tonight, the couple are throwing their own version of the holiday, with plans to get to bed at a reasonable hour, keeping daughters Luna, 10, and Soleil, 7, in mind.

It's a warm day in L.A., so the party starts outside. Deravian sets the rice on the table, along with a rose- and mint-flecked cucumber yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs. The girls reach for the tahdig, and then everyone devours the pomegranate and lamb soup. Dusk ushers the crew into the living room, where a small table is set with symbolic snacks, a nod to the classic blanket-covered, heated korsi table. Suddenly inspired, Taha begins singing a Persian love song, a friend joins with a hand drum, and a different kind of magic happens.

BARBERRY RICE with SAFFRON CHICKEN
(ZERESHK POLO)

SERVES 6 TO 8 / 3 1/2 HOURS

When warmed, tart barberries--popular in
Persian dishes--turn a jewel-like red. Don't
let the many steps here dissuade you; they
fit together for maximum efficiency.

3   cups basmati rice
7   tbsp. kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp. saffron, ground with a mortar and
    pestle or in an electric spice grinder
3   tbsp. Greek yogurt
8   tbsp. melted unsalted butter, divided,
    plus more as needed
1   cup dried barberries*
2   tsp. sugar
1   batch Saffron Chicken (page 92)

1. Put rice in a large bowl of cold water.
Swish with your hands to release starch,
then drain. Repeat until water runs clear.
In a medium bowl, dissolve 3 tbsp. kosher
salt in 2 cups cold water. Add rice and
soak at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

2. While rice soaks, microwave 2 tbsp.
water until hot (not boiling). Add ground
saffron; set aside to steep.

3. Fill a pot with 3 qts. water and Vi cup salt
and bring to a boil, covered. Drain rice
and add to the pot. Stir once gently. Bring
back to a gentle (not rolling) boil, uncovered,
and cook rice, skimming off any
foam, until softened but still with a bite to
it, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain rice in a colander
and rinse quickly under lukewarm water.
Let sit in colander to drain fully.

4. Put yogurt in a medium bowl, add Vi tsp.
saffron water, and stir to mix. Stir in

3 cups drained rice and set aside. Heat
another 2 tbsp. water until hot (not boiling).
Add 2 tbsp. melted butter; set aside.

5. Set a 10- to 11-in.-wide dutch oven with
a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add
3 tbsp. melted butter, swirling it around
to cover bottom of pot and up sides by 1
in. With the back of a large spoon, spread
rice-yogurt mixture evenly across bottom
of pot. This will be the tahdig (crispy
rice) layer. Spoon in remaining rice to
form a cone, with rice at sides of pot only
1/2 in. deep over tahdig layer. Using handle
of a wooden spoon, poke several
holes in rice cone (without disturbing
tahdig layer) so steam can escape. Drizzle
butter-hot water mixture over rice.

6. Set pot lid on a large clean kitchen towel,
fold edges of towel up over lid, and cover
pot with lid. Cook over medium heat (to
set the tahdig) until steam starts to escape
from beneath lid, 10 to 12 minutes.

7. Turn heat as low as possible and cook
rice, rotating pot a few times for even
cooking, until rice is tender and tahdig
is golden and crisp (check by lifting with
a rubber spatula), 50 to 60 minutes.

8. Meanwhile, soak barberries: Sort
through berries, picking out any stems
and small stones. … 

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