When cooking for friends or family, we often plan around the main attraction. But we so often, myself included, neglect giving the sides much thought. Yes, there are the “goue oues”; the yellow rice and raisins, the trusty potato salad (or baked potato), or Hasselback sweet potatoes if we want to show off our knife skills. Lately, though, I’ve been on a hunt to expand my everyday repertoire. Although the concept of jewelled rice is of Persian origin, something about this exotic blend of rice, pistachios, dried cranberries, and ultra-luxurious saffron – all encased in a crispy shell – takes me on a voyage not unlike our Malay-inspired, South African dishes. Suddenly, your side dish becomes a centrepiece, and I just love the surprise element as you crack open this showstopper to reveal those beautiful “jewels” of emerald and ruby.
500 ml Spekko Basmati Long Grain White Rice
0.5 g saffron strands
125 ml canola oil
250 ml full cream yogurt
3 egg yolks
45 ml melted butter
1 medium-sized potato
fresh flat leaf parsley or coriander
30 ml pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
30 ml dried cranberries
Place the rice in a bowl and cover with 500 ml of water. Let it soak for 30 minutes, then strain the rice. Pour 1 litre of water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes. Strain and rinse with warm water.
Preheat your oven to 190 °C. Make a saffron infusion by adding 30 ml of warm water to your saffron in a small bowl. Allow at least 20 minutes for the colour and flavour to infuse. Place the rice in a large bowl and add the oil, yogurt, egg yolks and infused saffron. Mix well and season with salt.
Brush a glass oven dish (20 cm in diameter and with a volume of 1.25 litres) with melted butter. Slice the potato as thin as possible. If you have a mandolin slicer, don’t be shy. The amount of slices you will need will depend on the size of the potato and the pattern you would like to create on the bottom of your bowl.
Brush each slice of potato with melted butter and place fresh parsley leaves on top. Place the potato slices – with the parsley face down – in a bowl. Brush again with butter. Place the dish in the fridge for a couple of minutes to make sure the melted butter hardens before spooning in your rice.
Spoon half of your rice mixture into the bowl and gently press it down with a spatula. Now it’s time to sprinkle your “jewels” (the pistachio nuts and dried cranberries) on top. Spoon the rest of the rice on top and again, gently press it down with a spatula.
Cover the bowl with tinfoil and place it in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. The great thing about baking this dish in a glass bowl is that you can check if the rice is golden brown at the bottom and sides. If not, just leave it in the oven a little longer.
Take the dish out of the oven and let it rest for about 3 minutes before turning it out. Place a warm plate on top of the rice bowl and gently flip it over. Serve immediately. The best part is the crunchy bit at the bottom. Enjoy as a side dish, which will go especially well with a spicy lamb tagine.