Persian Steamed Saffron Rice (Chelo) Recipe

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 You will need to soak the rice for at least Persian steamed saffron rice (chelo) recipe

You will need to soak the rice for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible, for a fluffier result. Once you smell the rice toasting, you know a good crust (tahdig) is forming.

Serves 6
Preparation 2hr 30min
Cooking 1hr 10min

Angela Nahas


600 g (3 cups) basmati or long grain rice
1 tsp saffron threads
½ tsp white sugar
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
150 g ghee
1 tsp nigella or cumin seeds

Cook’s notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Place rice in a large bowl and cover with lukewarm water. Using your hand, agitate rice, then drain. Repeat process twice more or until water runs clear. Add 1.5 litres water and 2 tbsp salt to rice, cover and stand for 2 hours or overnight. Drain.

Bring 1.5 litres water and 2 tbsp salt to the boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until grains are just softened. Drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. Reserve the pan.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind saffron and sugar until fine. Place in a bowl with 60 ml
hot water and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

Place 2 cups drained rice in a bowl with yoghurt, 50 g ghee, nigella seeds, 125 ml water and ½ tsp saffron water, and stir to combine. Transfer rice mixture to reserved pan and spread to cover the base. Add remaining rice and shape to form a mound. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make 4 holes in rice mound. Cook, covered, over high heat for 15 minutes or until a crust starts to form on the base; check by using a spoon to gently pull rice away from the side of the pan.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 100 g ghee and 100 ml warm water in a bowl. Pour over rice. Place a clean tea towel over the saucepan, replace lid and secure ends of tea towel to lid handle to keep away from the flame. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for a further 45 minutes or until the rice is tender and fluffy. Remove saucepan from heat and stand for 5 minutes.

Combine 1 cup cooked rice and remaining saffron water in a bowl. Spoon the remaining cooked rice onto a large plate, leaving the crust (tahdig) at the bottom in one piece in the pan, and spoon over saffron rice mixture. Serve tahdig on the side.

As seen in Feast Magazine, Issue 13, pg87.

Photography by John Laurie

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