Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes is a classic Persian dish referred to as Tahchin e Esfanaj. One serving of this entree provides 225 calories and beautifully combines the five food groups!
If you are not used to preparing rice dishes, this recipe might seem time consuming or having too many steps. But it is not very different than the way Lasagna is prepared. For Lasagna – meat, pasta and vegetables are prepared separately and assembled in several layers. Likewise, for this rice dish – chicken, rice and other vegetables are prepared separately and assembled in several layers. Just as it is important to cook the lasagna noodles to be al dente, it is suggested to not overcook rice in the first step. One can easily prepare only half the recipe too.
Photo Credit: Bijan of www.bijansviewfinder.com
Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes uses basmati rice, a flavorful long grain rice variety. Studies have indicated that this rice variety ranges between low to medium glycemic index. In this dish, chicken provides a good amount of lean protein and alternative to red meat. Some yogurt is used to prepare this rice dish and I have discussed about this ingredient in my post on Persian Yogurt Dip with Shallots.
An ample amount of spinach is used to prepare this dish. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin C, potassium and folic acid. This leafy green is a source of alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that has been shown to help with blood glucose control. The high amount of potassium is beneficial for maintaining a healthy blood pressure. The chlorophyll present in spinach is known for its anti carcinogenic properties. And the high content of vitamin K helps support bone health. The vitamin A and vitamin C contribute to healthy skin and hair.
Photo Credit: Bijan of www.bijansviewfinder.com
Prunes add some nuggets of sweet flavor and additional nutrition. Prunes contain phenolic compounds – antioxidants that help prevent free radical damage. They are a good source of dietary fiber and associated with better glucose control, fullness, bowel regularity, lower blood cholesterol and intestinal protection.
The elegant and festive looks of this dish are befittingly matched by its good taste and nutrition. Try this exciting Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes and let me know what you think!
SAFFRON YOGURT RICE WITH SPINACH AND PRUNES
- 1 ½ pounds chicken cut into pieces
- 1 onion large, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- 1/2 teaspoon Advieh (Persian spice mix)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup yogurt plain, thick
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron ground and dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1 pound spinach frozen, chopped, or 2 pounds fresh spinach
- 1/4 pound spinach fresh, for garnish
- 3.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 egg yolk optional
- 1 ½ tablespoons butter or oil, optional
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice optional
- 1 cup prunes pitted
- 2 cups Basmati rice or Brown Basmati rice
- Roasted Sliced Almonds optional
Place the chicken, 1/2 the sliced onion, 1 grated garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon Persian mixed spice, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in a cooking pot and mix well. Add half cup water and cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes to one hour until well done.
Alternatively it can be baked for one hour in an ovenproof dish without the addition of water as the chicken will release its own juices while baking.
Drain any water or juices from the cooked chicken very well and set aside. The drained stock can be used to add to other stews or soups.
Once the chicken is cooled well, add yogurt and one tablespoon saffron water. Mix well and may marinate overnight.
In a skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil, sauté the remaining sliced onion and grated garlic clove. Add the chopped spinach, 1/4 teaspoon salt and simmer five minutes. Stir and let any juices evaporate. It is not necessary that the spinach be fully cooked at this stage as it will continue to cook later.
In a separate skillet or saucepan heat one teaspoon of oil and sauté the 1/4th pound of fresh spinach lightly for a few minutes, making sure not to overcook. As this spinach will be used for garnish, so it is important to retain the color and form as much as possible while cooking it just enough and letting the juices evaporate quickly. Spread the spinach over a plate and set aside for garnishing at the end.
There are two ways to prepare the Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes. One is using the rice cooker which is the easier method. The other is the traditional method which includes boiling the rice first and then baking it in the oven with the rest of the ingredients.
Wash the rice thoroughly, until there is no starchy water. It may require 4-5 rinses until the water is clear. Drain the rice well.
RICE COOKER METHOD:
Bring two and half cups water to a boil in a rice cooker. Add two tablespoons oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the rice. Let it cook just until all the water is absorbed. It is important to not let the rice steam until it is fully done. Transfer the cooked rice to another container.
Persian rice is usually prepared in a way to form a rice crust in the bottom of the pan. When the rice is finally flipped the crust is on the top. If you prefer to make the rice crust, it is possible to do that in a Persian Rice cooker which is specially designed to make the crust.
In the rice cooker, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter (or oil). Take 2-3 tablespoons of the marinade from the chicken, add couple scoops of cooked rice, one tablespoon saffron water, egg yolk and mix well. Spread this mixture evenly over the melted butter.
Layer the remaining cooked rice, marinated chicken, prunes, spinach and ending with a rice layer. Sprinkle the last tablespoon of saffron water and lemon juice over the rice. Place the lid and let the rice steam for about 20 minutes as per the rice cooker instructions.
Alternatively Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes can be prepared in the oven. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
First, bring 7 cups of water and 1.5 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large cooking pot. Add the rice and let it boil at medium high to high heat for 5-6 minutes until the rice grains are soft. Make sure to stir the rice while it is cooking. Drain the rice well in a colander and set aside.
If you prefer to make the rice crust, take a oven proof dish, such as a Pyrex baking dish and melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter (or oil). Take 2-3 tablespoons of the marinade from the chicken, add couple scoops of cooked rice, one tablespoon saffron water, egg yolk and mix well. Spread this mixture evenly over the melted butter.
Layer the remaining cooked rice, marinated chicken, prunes, spinach and ending with a rice layer. Sprinkle the last tablespoon of saffron water and lemon juice over the rice. Pour over the two tablespoons of oil evenly all over the rice. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and seal well. Place the dish in the oven and bake for an hour or more until a golden crust is formed in the bottom.
Transfer the Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes onto a wooden surface or place over a moist towel for about 10 minutes.
Using a spatula gently loosen the edges as you would do for a cake. Place the serving plate over the baking dish or rice cooker and carefully flip it over as you would do for an upside down cake. Carefully loosen the rice and arrange it.
If you prefer, the crust may be cut out and placed around the rice. Garnish with the sautéed fresh spinach and roasted sliced almonds. You may serve this dish with a Persian yogurt dip with shallots
(1) The amount of water added while cooking the rice is very important to the final texture of the dish. And it differs with the age of the rice. Basmati rice typically will need less water than other long grain rice varieties to yield a light fluffy cooked rice. With any batch of rice purchased, I usually use trial and error to determine the right amount of water needed for cooking. It may range from 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups water per cup of rice. It is important to keep in mind the additional moisture from the other ingredients added to this dish, such as the chicken, spinach and yogurt. Therefore, in the first step, the rice should be cooked in a way to yield a fluffy rice that is well done, but holds its shape well and is not too wet and delicate.
(2) The amount of moisture in the various ingredients in Saffron Yogurt Rice with Spinach and Prunes is very important for the final texture of this dish. The spinach should be well drained and not be too wet. The chicken should be just lightly coated with the marinade. If the marinade is excessive it can result in the rice becoming soggy.
(3) The oil and salt have been added in amounts that adequately balance taste and nutrition. For festive occasions however, other optional ingredients such as butter and egg yolk may be used. And the amount of added fat or salt is adjusted as needed.
Servings: 14, Serving Size: 1 cup
Calories 225, Total Fat 6 g (Saturated Fat 1 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 3 g, Monounsaturated Fat 2 g), Cholesterol 29 mg, Sodium 334 mg, Potassium 624 mg, Phosphorus 145 mg, Total Carbohydrate 34 g, Dietary Fiber 3 g, Sugars 6 g, Protein 10 g