I often cook with someone in mind. This might be a bit eerie, but I haven't been able to do anything about it so far. I create a scenario in my head, as if the person is actually with me, waiting to be fed and more often than not, the person I am cooking for in my head is different than the person in front of me...
...are you with me so far?
Six months ago I started making tadig. It started with my friend Rachel and I obsessing over Shirin Neshat's eyeliner and ended with my Iranian pattern maker, Houshang Mohseni.
Houshang has been my pattern maker for seven years. In 1979, after closing his western-style clothing factory in Iran, he moved to Queens and started over. He has since been home only once, to visit his brother that fell ill, and he doesn't like to talk about it.
Houshang is sort of like the grandfather I never really had. He is a man that pats me on the back and tells me I can pay him later, whenever I can. That carefully suggests I add more styles to my collection so I can "go to BIG!". That insists on taking me out to lunch on my birthday even though he is working on a deadline. He has taught me to say two things in Farsi: "I love you" and "that's CRAZY!" (Which is really all you need to know.)
He is someone who has lost more than anyone else I know, and yet keeps going. As he once explained to me while muttering over a bite of chicken, "this is life..."
When I told him I made tadig, he paused for a moment and then said his wife also made very good tadig as he sat down on his little couch. I knew there was more he wanted to tell me, but I left it at that, promising that I would bring him some soon and leaving quickly because I knew I should.
I make spinach pie because my Yiayia taught me to roll out phyllo in a hot and tiny kitchen while spilling an entire bag of flour on the floor. I make seared duck because someone I loved thought it was perfect. I make NesCafe frappes for my best friend because they remind him of summer. I will always make tadig for Houshang, who for a moment told me everything, while saying nothing at all.
Tadig with Pistachios, Apricots and Caramelized Onions
1 tablespoon of salt plus more for the dish
2 cups long grain rice (such as Basmati or Jasmine)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4-1 cup hot water
3/4 cup shelled, raw pistachios
1/2 cup dried apricots cut into slivers
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow or sweet onion
Preheat the oven to 400.
Toast the pistachios for 8-10 minutes until light brown and fragrant. Coarsely chop.
In a skillet, melt a tablespoon of butter and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Saute over medium heat until the onion is soft and light brown. Add the apricots and saute a bit longer just until they color. Remove from heat and cool. Add chopped pistachios and set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring 8 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. You are going to parboil the rice as if it was pasta.
When the water comes to a boil, add the rice and stir so it doesn't stick together. Again, think pasta, not rice. Boil the rice for 6 minutes. No more, no less and then drain the rice in a colander and rinse immediately with lots of cold water.
In a nonstick skillet that has a lid (or you can fashion one out of a heavy plate) melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Add the rice by spooning it into the middle of the pan, and then gently pushing it out to the sides. Poke holes in the rice with the handle of your spoon and sprinkle with salt.
Start by adding 1/2 a cup of water and reducing the heat to low. I find that you don't need very much water at all, so I err on the side of caution. Wrap the lid in a kitchen towel (or your plate) and place over the rice. Cook for about 15 minutes, and then check the rice by taking few grains and trying them to see if they are done. If they are, remove the lid. If not, add a bit more water and return the lid to the pan.
When the rice is done, scatter half of the apricot pistachio mixture over the skillet, gently pushing it into the holes of the rice, and all over. Turn the heat to medium high until you see the edges are turning golden brown. I like to drizzle a bit more melted butter or olive oil around the edge of the pan to help this move along.
Remove from the heat and let it cool. You can also fill your sink with cold water and place the bottom of the pan in the sink. This helps the tadig to unstick, although though if you have a good nonstick pan this shouldn't be a problem.
When you are ready to serve, flip the tadig by holding a plate to the pan and flipping it. Don't worry if it falls apart, it will still taste good. Sprinkle the remaining pistachio apricot mixture on top and serve.
*This tadig is not remotely traditional or even a regional variation. I made the potato crust one so many times that I decided to branch out.