Persian Feast for Nowruz, the New Year!

Persian Jeweled Rice.  Photographer: Alli Whitaker

Recently, my training partner Jess and I traveled to Austin, Texas, to race in the Heart of Texas regatta.  While there, we were graciously hosted by Allen and Massey Wallace, parents of my dear friend Sara from Williams College.  Massey prepared a meal for us on our first night in Austin, featuring several Persian dishes.  We feasted on tender, spiced chicken that roasted for hours in the oven and fell right off the bone.  Our salad had fresh strawberries and our eggplant dish was mixed with kashk, a drained yogurt.  The Persian rice that Massey prepared was light, fluffy and flavorful; the rice cooking method changed everything about the texture, and then tiny bayberries lent just a little bite to the dish.  On our last day, when I asked about her recipes, Massey walked me through the process for each dish, encouraged me to call with questions about making the rice and sent me home with bright zarchobeh spices from Iran.

Two weeks after I returned from Austin, I attempted to recreate Massey’s dishes at my friends Alli and Alex’s apartment.  We met early in the afternoon so I could carve out time to prepare each dish while the chicken roasted slowly.  I consulted my friend Sara day-of to ask how to make her mother’s rice: she divulged that each time she either called Massey or consulted the Internet.  Then she wished me a happy Persian New Year, which seemed like a fateful coincidence!  Having just checked in with Massey the day before to confirm the eggplant and chicken recipes, I elected to find a Persian rice recipe online.  Alli and I were nearly stumped by the lengthy recipe we found, but we took our time reading the recipe aloud to fully comprehend all of the steps, and the results were worth the effort.  I will share an abbreviated version of the recipe we used.  For our rice recipe, we were encouraged to soak the dried rice for 2 to 24 hours.  The total rice preparation time took about an hour, including the steps for each rice topping.  For planning purposes, this meal goes most smoothly if you soak your rice first, then get the chicken prepped and into the oven.  You will have plenty of time while the chicken roasts to prepare your rice and then the eggplant dish consecutively.

Alli is a brilliant photographer, with her BA in photography and extensive freelance experience; I have noted which photographs were taken by her.  For more of Alli’s photography, visit her website here.



Persian Chicken– serves 6

I used Massey’s zarchobeh spice, but you can substitute turmeric for a similar flavor. I also used lemon pepper and salt in place of dried lemon and salt and pepper; if you have access to a spice shop, the dried lemon is worth checking out!

You will need: IMG_2953

  1. 2 pounds chicken drumsticks – about 5 drumsticks
  2. 2 pounds chicken thighs – about 4 thighs
  3. 2 T zarchobeh or turmeric
  4. ½ T dried lemon
  5. ½ t salt and 1 t pepper


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread a layer of foil over a baking sheet. Tear another section of foil to cover chicken while cooking.
  3. Blend all spices.
  4. Pat chicken pieces dry and cover in spice blend on both sides.
  5. Cover with foil and roast for two hours. Remove foil and roast for another 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a crisp skin.



Persian Jeweled Rice– serves 6

This recipe is a simplified version of a recipe I found on a website called “the kitchn” [sic]. I included that source below. Alli and I chose the shorter steps and less expensive ingredients to make our rice dish (no saffron) and were happy with the results.

You will need: IMG_2958

  1. 3 C basmati rice
  2. 2 T salt
  3. 1 C dried cranberries
  4. 2 oranges
  5. 2 T olive oil
  6. ½ C sliced almonds
  7. ½ C shelled pistachios
  8. ½ C golden raisins
  9. 2 carrots
  10. 1 cinnamon stick
  11. 2 T sugar
  12. ½ t turmeric
  13. 2 t cardamom


  1. Rinse rice with cold water over a strainer until water runs clear. Soak rice in cold water for 2 to 24 hours with salt mixed in.
  2. Chop dried cranberries into tiny pieces and set aside.
  3. Bring a small pot of water to boil. Peel the rinds off of your oranges and slice rind sections into matchsticks. Drop orange slices into boiling water and cook for about a minute. Rinse under cold water and set aside.
  4. Toast almonds and pistachios together in a large skillet with olive oil for about a minute, or until fragrant, taking care to move the nuts constantly because they brown easily and can become bitter. Add the golden raisins and heat for another minute. Set aside.
  5. Heat 2 T water, turmeric, 1 T sugar and 1 T oil over medium heat in your large skillet. Add carrots and orange peel and sauté until pieces just begin to bend. Add remaining sugar, cardamom and a cinnamon stick and sauté for another minute. Next, add 1 cup of water and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes, until liquid has reduced to thicker syrup. Drain carrots and oranges over a mesh sieve and retain the liquid.
  6. Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large soup pot. Drain your soaking rice and add to boiling water with 2 T salt. After about 8 minutes, your rice will start to boil up to the surface. You are par-boiling your rice. Next, drain rice and rinse with cold water.
  7. Mix rice with the syrup from your carrot and orange mixture.
  8. Add rice to your large pot again, shaping the rice into a pyramid. Cover pot with a lid and wrap with a dishtowel to keep steam from escaping. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.
  9. Serve rice caramelized carrot and orange pieces above rice, and nuts and cranberry pieces at the very top. 


Mashed Roasted Eggplant with Yogurt – serves 4

You will need: IMG_2940

  1. 2 purple eggplants
  2. 2 T olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
  4. 3 T Greek yogurt or kashk
  5. about 2 T fresh mint


  1. Peel eggplant and slice in half lengthwise.
  2. Brush the inside surface of each eggplant half with olive oil
  3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast eggplant on a baking sheet for about an hour, at 350 degrees alongside your chicken.
  5. After eggplant has softened, remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before scooping out the soft eggplant insides. Mix soft eggplant with yogurt and fresh mint.

Serve with warmed pita and a fresh green salad of your choice!

Source: Gillingham, Sara Kate. “Recipe: Iranian Jeweled Rice – Recipes from The Kitchn.” The Kitchn. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

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