A solitary shoe in the middle of the street. An unexpected letter from the revenue agency. A ticking clock. A night bus that’s nowhere in sight. THIS.
These are all things that, to varying degrees, I find pretty unsettling. But none of them match the unsettled feeling that creeps through me when I begin apartment hunting. I’ve moved so often, you’d think I’d be a professional by now. A cool, calm, collected professional. And yet, it’s up there with the most unnerving, frustrating, disappointing, desperate experiences I’ve been through. The idea of uprooting yourself (again), competing with other searchers, and relying on some vague faith that you’ll find something better than what you’ve already got – for a price that won’t force you subsist on beans – can be quite the emotional roller-coaster. The worst part is that through the sweating and waiting and trekking to appointments, you can’t really complain – because it was your idea in the first place.
Though it’s barely just begun, this most recent search is already starting to make me feel weary, disillusioned, mildly petrified…weepy. When you’re hoofing to different parts of the city, visiting crappy places, in this, it’s only a matter of time before you start to lose your marbles.
As with other moments in life when I’ve wanted to climb into a hovel and never come out, I turn to food to bring me back to earth and help me confront the not-so-fun bits of life. I’m not talking about eating fistfuls of Doritos for dinner or gorging on tubs of ice cream (though, that wouldn’t be so bad). No, I’m talking about food I can rely on – something that’s grounding and provides comfort, sustenance and just the right amount of chew. Luckily, I recently discovered a recipe that is pretty much a hug in a bowl. Not soup. Not mac & cheese. But PERSIAN SPICED RICE. Yes. I found my savior in a bowl of toasted rice, warm spices, chewy dried fruit and a healthy knob of butter – a gentle reminder that the nasty bits never last forever.
Persian Spiced Rice (serves 6-8 as a side) – adapted from the New York Times
- 2 cups best-quality Basmati rice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, diced small
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup hot water
- Large pinch ground cinnamon
- Large pinch ground cardamom
- Large pinch ground allspice
- Large pinch ground black pepper
- Large pinch ground cumin
- 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/3 cup Thomson raisins (or currants)
- 1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds (optional)
1) Rinse the rice several times in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add the rice and boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Drain well.
2) Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and cook until softened and lightly colored, 4 to 5 minutes. Moisten with 1 Tbsp of the saffron water and stir in the cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, black pepper and cumin. Cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the apricots and raisins (or currants).
3) Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed enamel or nonstick Dutch oven over medium heat. Spread half the par-cooked rice over the bottom of the pot. Spoon over the onion-fruit mixture, then the remaining rice. Leave the pot on the flame, uncovered, for 5 to 8 minutes to gently brown the rice. (Do not stir or move the rice. Trust that it’s doing the right thing).
4) Drizzle the remaining saffron water over the rice and put on the lid. Adjust the heat to very low and leave undisturbed for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest at least 10 minutes.
5) Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the almonds for a minute or so, taking care not to get them too brown. Set aside for garnish.
6) To serve, spoon the rice into a wide bowl or platter. With a spatula, carefully lift the bottom crust, placing the crisp side up. Sprinkle with the toasted nuts.