May it Please the Palate

Persian Rice Recipe

One of the great perks of this column is the random love I get. I sure don’t get any for practicing law. (From that, I tend to make a lot of enemies - and that’s just within my own firm.) But writing this column, I get shout-outs from judges, mediators, and attorneys who just want to talk about food.

Recently I got a phone call from an attorney colleague whom I barely knew, who wanted to have dinner. We got together at the beautiful lake house of his partner, a magistrate, and with my wife. We had a marvelous time on a perfect moonlit evening. Turns out, the attorney is a pretty darned good cook himself. He whipped up a grilled salmon with a homemade fig sauce, an hors d’oeuvres selection to rival a small banquet, and a delicious salad. I supplied wine, dessert, and Persian rice, the recipe of which appears below.

By the time we were sipping on Port around the bonfire, I knew we had not only enjoyed a great meal together, but had some laughs and made new friends. This food business, I thought, is not a bad thing at all.

The Persian Rice recipe is from a “Joy of Cooking” calendar one of my law partners gave me last holiday season. Each tear-off page has a culinary gem from that classic cookbook, which happened to be the first one I wore out (the cover still has the branding from my stove top’s electric burner from when I was still in law school).

I’d never cooked with cardamom seeds before. You buy the green pods and break them open to get the small, black flavorful nuggets inside.

Ingredients
coarse salt
2 cups white basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
3 black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (from about 3 pods)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup thinly sliced onions
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons dried sweet or sour cherries or golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped pistachios, shelled and chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring water and salt to a boil in a large pot. When it boils, stir in the rice, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, and cardamom seeds. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let stand in a sieve until ready to use. (You should remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns at this time. It’s a pain in the you-know-what, but nobody wants to bite into one of those lil’ crunchies and break a tooth.)

Melt 8 tablespoons of butter (one stick) in a large ovenproof non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spoon off 3 tablespoons and reserve. Add sliced onions and saffron to the remaining butter in the skillet. Cook, stirring over medium heat until the onions are golden, about 8 minutes. Spread the onions in an even layer in the skillet. Stir apricots and the cherries or raisins into the cooked rice. Spoon the rice over the onions. (Here you can transfer the mixture into a casserole dish). Smooth the top of the rice with the back of a large spoon and press down very firmly to pack it. Drizzle the reserved butter evenly over the top. Cover with a double layer of aluminum foil, crimping the edges and pressing down on the top.

Bake for 1 hour. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and prepare to invert the rice over a large round platter. Protecting your hands with a dish towel, turn the rice dish and platter over, allowing the rice to drop onto the platter. Mound nicely, and sprinkle the top with chopped pistachios.

Go forth and make new friends with this lovely dish! In the meantime, I am fielding calls every day from attorneys I don’t know, wondering which ones are opposing counsel on new cases I’ve filed, and which ones want to grab a bite to eat. I know who I’ll have more fun with!    

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.