Saffron rice with chicken, yogurt and spinach is a classic Persian dish referred to as Tahchin e Esfanaj. It is healthy, gluten free and can be prepared in a rice cooker, on stove or in oven. Elegant, festive and delicious!
WHAT IS TAHCHIN?
Tahchin is a saffron flavored Persian baked rice cake, also known as Iranian rice cake and is mainly prepared with rice, yogurt and saffron. Variations of this recipe are made with lamb, chicken and vegetables.
For the recipe here, layers of saffron yogurt rice are placed with marinated chicken, vegetables and steamed together. The characteristic part of this dish is a crispy rice crust known as tahdig, that is formed in the bottom of the dish.
So what does saffron taste like?
Saffron has a delicate flavor that pairs perfectly with basmati rice. It has a floral note and goes well with both savory and sweet recipes. It is an essential ingredient for traditional Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Spanish rice recipes.
Looking for more healthy and tasty rice recipes? Check these out:
- Barberry Rice with Saffron Chicken (Zereshk Polo)
- Persian Green Bean Rice (Lubia Polo)
- Persian Style Lentil Cranberry Rice
- Persian Shrimp Rice with Herbs and Quinoa
- Easy Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani
HEALTH BENEFITS – Saffron Rice with Chicken
One serving of this main course dish provides 225 calories and beautifully combines the five food groups!
This saffron rice with chicken uses basmati rice, a flavorful long grain rice variety. Studies have indicated that this rice variety ranges between low to medium glycemic index. And chicken provides good amount of lean protein and alternative to red meat.
An ample amount of spinach is used to prepare this dish, which 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.
Prunes add some nuggets of sweet flavor and nutrition. They contain phenolic compounds – antioxidants that help prevent free radical damage. And they are a good source of dietary fiber and associated with better glucose control, fullness, bowel regularity, lower blood cholesterol and intestinal protection.
Is saffron rice gluten free?
Yes, it is absolutely gluten free and can me made vegan, grain free or dairy free as mentioned below.
What are the health benefits of saffron?
Saffron is supposed to benefit cardiovascular health, alleviate PMS symptoms, possess anti-carcinogenic properties, treat erectile dysfunction, depression and anxiety. There are many more health effects attributed to it. But as with most foods, the benefits accrue with consistent use.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR PERSIAN SAFFRON RICE
How to make easy saffron rice
Think of this as making lasagna. For Lasagna – meat, pasta and vegetables are prepared separately and assembled in several layers. Likewise, for this rice dish – chicken, rice and vegetables are prepared separately and assembled in several layers. You could even combine making the chicken and vegetables in one step. It is easy to make it in a rice cooker.
How to make sure saffron yogurt rice is tasty
Season it well with salt, spices and lemon juice as per your taste. And do use basmati rice. If you don’t like prunes, you may skip that.
How to use saffron
Store dry saffron in an airtight container away from sunlight, moisture and heat.
Use a pinch of salt or sugar and grind the saffron to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Soak it in hot water for about 15 minutes or more and use in the recipe. You can store this for a few days in the refrigerator.
Where to buy saffron
You can buy it online on Amazon or at Persian/Middle Eastern/Indian/Mediterranean grocery stores. Make sure to look for high quality saffron (Persian or Spanish).
How To Buy Saffron
Check the expiration date. Most sellers will guarantee optimal flavor and potency for about 2 years after production date.
- Dairy free: I have not tried it but you could try using coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt. And use olive oil.
- Vegan: Use tofu and/or chickpeas instead of chicken. Try coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt. Choose olive oil and skip egg yolk.
- Grain free: Use cauliflower rice in place of rice. Check the instructions for making cauliflower rice. Cauliflower will not crisp up like rice to make the tahdig (rice crust), but you may place thin potato slices at the bottom of the dish before steaming it together.
Photography above: bijansviewfinder.com
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What kind of rice recipes do you make? Did you try this “Persian Saffron Rice with Chicken”?
Do you have any questions about it? Or any suggestions?
Let me know by leaving a comment below, rating it, and tagging it with a photo at #thedeliciouscrescent on Instagram.
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This post was first published on 7th February, 2016
HOW TO MAKE TAHCHIN ESFENAJ
- 1½ pounds chicken cut into pieces, 700 g
- 1 onion large, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- 1/2 teaspoon Advieh (Persian spice mix, see note 6)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup yogurt thick, 190 g
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron (ground and dissolved in 3 tbps hot water)
- 1 pound spinach frozen, chopped (450 g) or 2 lbs fresh (900 g)
- 1/4 pound spinach fresh for garnish (optional)
- 3½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 egg yolk (optional)
- 1½ tablespoons butter or oil (optional, for rice crust)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup prunes pitted, 125 g
- 2 cups basmati rice or brown basmati rice, 400 g
- 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.
- There are two ways to proceed. Either using the Persian rice cooker (easier method). Or boiling the rice first and then baking it in the oven with the remaining ingredients (traditional method).
- 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.
- 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 Persian rice cooker, heat 1½ 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.
- Check out the video for the Persian Lentil Cranberry Rice to see how this is done in a Persian rice cooker.
- Alternatively it 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 cooked rice cake dish onto a wooden surface or place over a moist towel for about 5 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 separated, cut and placed around the rice. Garnish with sautéed fresh spinach (see note 4) and roasted sliced almonds. You may serve this dish with a Persian yogurt dip with shallots.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR MAKING SAFFRON RICE RECIPE
- 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 1¼ to 1¾ 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 to yield a fluffy rice that is well done, holds its shape well but is not too wet and delicate.
- The amount of moisture in the various ingredients 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.
- 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, adjusting added fat or salt as needed.
- Tip for garnish: In a separate skillet heat one teaspoon of oil and sauté 1/4th pound of fresh spinach lightly for a few minutes, making sure not to overcook. As this spinach will be used for garnish, it is important to retain the color and shape as much as possible while cooking it and letting the juices evaporate quickly. Spread the spinach over a plate and set aside for garnishing at the end.
- You can also prepare this recipe on the stove using a non stick cooking pot.
- Persian spice mix (advieh) is available on Amazon or Persian grocery stores. A middle eastern or Mediterranean mixed spice blend could be a substitute.
For more tips and serving suggestions check out the blog post above.
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