I still remember when I first got married, I was discussing my non-existing cooking skills with my sister-in-law and she told me that the most important dish to master is rice. "If you can master making rice then you'll be fine." She told me. And I remember thinking to myself; What??! I can make rice! It should be easy, right? Nine years of cooking later proved me wrong. I didn't master making "nath'ri" rice until a few weeks ago.
"Nath'ri" is a kuwaiti word that describes a rice in which each grain is beautiflly cooked , steamed and have its own identity. It is literally translated as dispersed or sprinkled rice.
My aha moment came when I was looking online for the perfect way to make rice. I was doing everything right, yet my rice was still saggy and sticky. I came upon one article that explained how to make perfect persian rice. One of the the steps was to wrap the pot's cover with a kitchen towel to absorb the steam that is coming from the rice. I was stunned! I have always watched my grandma doing this when making rice. But I thought this was just a way to protect her hands because the handle was hot ( silly me ha ). The next time I visited I asked her for the reason that she wraps the pot's cover with a towel and she told me in a matter of fact tone : to absorb the steam from the rice. Da ! Why I never asked! She's a genius ! So the next day I made the perfect rice in my entire life !
To make "nath'ri" rice you have to start with the right type. There are two kinds of rice: short grain which we call here in Kuwait "Egyptian rice" because it comes from Egypt, I guess. And long grain basmati rice which comes from India ,Iran and other far east countries. The one you want is the long grain basmati.
There are three steps to making nath'ri rice: soaking, cooking and steaming. Soaking is important because it lengthens and firms the grains which makes for a long fluffy and separated rice. It is preferred that you soak the rice overnight with one teaspoon of salt. But that is not always practical, so it is o.k if you soak it for 30 minutes while you're preparing dinner. But try to soak the rice no less than thirty minutes.
The last part is steaming. After you drain the rice you should add it back to the saucepan and reheat it over medium-high heat until it steams. This will also create a bottom thick layer called "Hakook" in Kuwaiti or "tah'cheen" in Iranian which is also an icon of Iranian cooking. After the steam comes out, you should wrap the pot's cover with a kitchen towel to prevent the steam from transferring back to the rice and making it saggy.
I am not a big fan of "hakook" or "tah'cheen". I prefer to put a loaf of pita bread at the bottom which will be nicely browned and crunchy, perfect to dip with thick tangy yogurt.
It is worh mentioning that not all middle eastern cook their rice this way. For example in Egypt and Syria they cook their rice in a way that is similar to Americans'. Also, in Kuwait we have another way of cooking rice, which we don't drain and steam. It is called " mach'boos" and is also very popular. But still the majority of rice cooking is done this way in Khaleeji countries and Iran.
Steamed Basmati Rice
Makes about 3 cups cooked. Serves 2-4.
1 Cup long grain rice
1 tbs salt, plus 1 Tbs
3 whole cardamom
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs oil
1 loaf pita bread
1/4 tbs saffron (optional)
1 Tbs room temperature butter
- In a bowl wash and drain the rice seven times, until you get rid of most of the starch and the water runs clear, moving the rice with your hands in the water.
- Cover the rice with water. Add 1 tbs salt and let it soak for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.
- Dissolve saffron with 2 Tbs hot water. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan bring 5 cups of water to boil. Once boiled, add 1 Tbs salt, cardamom and bay leaf. Drain the rice and add to the boiling water. Over medium-high heat cook rice for 7 minutes then drain in a colander. Give it a quick rinse of cold water.
- Wipe clean the same saucepan you cook the rice with. Add oil and pita at the bottom. Carefully transfer rice back to the pot.
- With a spoon bring the rice from the sides towards the center to make a little dome. This will help the heat to distribute evenly to all the rice.
- Add the saffron water to the centre of the dome.
- With the lid on, and over medium- low heat reheat the rice until it steams. About 3 minutes.
- Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel and put it back over the rice. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook the rice for a few more minutes.
- Serve hot with butter on top.