Rice with Sour Cherries
1 tablespoon oil
2 young chickens, butterflied with backbones removed
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons rose water
4 pounds fresh sour cherries, stemmed and pitted or
2 pounds pitted frozen (available at Iranian markets)
1¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 cup oil, melted butter, or ghee
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons rose water
3 cups long-grain basmati rice
Lavash bread for the crust
2 tablespoons almonds, toasted
¼ cup raw pistachio kernels, toasted
½ cup cherry syrup
2 tablespoons oil, butter or ghee
To cook the chicken: In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil until hot and sear the chicken. Add the onions, salt, pepper, turmeric, lime juice, and ¼ cup water. Cover and cook over low heat for 1½ hours. Add the saffron-rose water, 2 tablespoons cherry syrup, cover, and set aside.
Gently place the cherries in a medium saucepan with the sugar and lime juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes over high heat. Drain over a bowl and save the syrup for later use. Return cherries to the saucepan and add 2 tablespoons oil, the cinnamon, and a few drops of saffron-rose water. Stir gently but do not crush the cherries. Set aside.
To cook the rice: Clean and wash 3 cups rice 5 times in warm water.
Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains. If the rice feels soft and all of it has risen to the top, it is ready to be drained. Drain in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse with 2 or 3 cups water.
To make the bread crust (tah-dig): In a mixing bowl, whisk together ¼ cup oil, ½ cup water, and a few drops of saffron-rose water. Pour this mixture into the same pot. Place a layer of lavash bread on top to fit the bottom of the pot.
Place 2 spatulas of rice in the pot, then add 1 slotted spatula of cherries. Do not add any of the syrup. (Set aside 2 spatulas of cherries for garnish.) Repeat, alternating layers of rice and cherries to mound the rice in the shape of a pyramid.
Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour the remaining saffron-rose water over the pyramid and reduce the heat to low.
Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook 40 minutes longer over low heat. Remove the lid and pour a mixture of ½ cup cherry syrup and ½ cup oil over the rice. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. Take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside with the rest of the garnish.
Gently taking 1 spatula at a time, place the rice on a serving platter without disturbing the crust. Mound the rice in the shape of a pyramid. Remove the chicken from the pot, cut into pieces, and place around the rice. Garnish with the saffron rice, cherries, almonds, and pistachios. In a small saucepan, heat ½ cup hot cherry syrup and 2 tablespoon oil and drizzle over the rice. Detach crust from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula and serve on the side.
Remove all the ingredients for the chicken and eliminate step 1. Increase the quantity of almonds and pistachios to 1 cup each.