Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Lamb (Tah chin-e barreh)

Makes 6 servings.
Preparation time: 1 hour 10 minutes plus 2 hours' marinating
Cooking time: 3 to 3 hours 30 minutes


2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds boned leg or shoulder of lamb, cut in 2-inch cubes
2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
4 tablespoons slivered orange peel with bitterness removed
3 cups long-grain basmati rice
3/4 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed (optional)
1 teaspoon advieh (Persian spice mix)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place one onion, salt, pepper, and meat in an ovenproof baking dish. Cover and bake for 1 hour, drain and allow to cool.
2. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, saffron water, and the slivered orange peel. Add salt to taste and marinate the meat in this mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
3. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.
4. Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large pot. Pour the washed and drained 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, it is ready. Drain in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 to 3 cups lukewarm water.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick skillet and sauté the other onion. Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove meat from the marinade. Combine the beaten egg yolks, 4 spatulas of rice, sautéed onion, the marinade, sprinkle with cumin and advieh and mix well.
6. Heat 1/2 cup butter or oil in a Pyrex baking dish in the oven. Add the mixture of rice and marinade, spreading it across the bottom and up the sides of the baking dish. Place the meat pieces on top, cover with layers of rice. Pour the rest of the butter over the rice. Pack firmly using a wooden spoon and cover with oiled aluminum foil.
7. Place baking dish in the oven and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the bottom turns golden brown.
8. Remove baking dish from oven. Allow to cool on a damp surface for 10 to 15 minutes (do not uncover). Then loosen the rice around the edges of the baking dish with the point of a knife. Place a large serving dish over the baking dish. Hold both dishes firmly together with two hands and turn them upside down.
9. Serve hot with fresh herbs, yogurt, and Persian pickles (torshi). Nush-e Jan!

Rice with chicken can be made the same way as Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Lamb. Simply replace the lamb with a whole, deboned chicken. Eliminate the advieh, add 2 teaspoons cumin seeds and 1/4 cup rose water in step 5. Follow the recipe as directed from step 6.

Variation: tah chins (which literally mean "placed on the bottom") can also be made using uncooked meat, chicken, or fish by eliminating step 1 and proceeding with step 2 and placing the meat, chicken or fish in the bottom of the pot.

Variation: Marinate the uncooked meat in yogurt, salt, pepper, saffron water, orange peel, cumin, advieh. Remove the meat from the marinade and proceed from step 3.

Recipe excerpted from New Food of Life: Ancient Persian & Modern Iranian Cooking & Ceremonies or Silk Road Cooking: a Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij.