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Persian Steamed Rice (Chelo)



Adapted from Dorothy McNett’s Recipe Book at This is the traditional Iranian method of cooking long grain rice. There are a number of ways that the rice is made but it’s famous for tahdig, a crunchy layer of rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, that is then broken and scattered through the top layer of the dish before serving.

Chelo (also spelled chelow), can be used as it is for a delicious side dish, or be incorporated into a larger dish like Persian Saffron Chicken. I’ve added a small amount of saffron and vanilla to this dish. You can also make it pop by adding barberries, which are a berry traditionally used in Persian cuisine and can be found at Middle Eastern markets or, use goji berries, which are also bright orange-red and are what I’ve used, as there are no stores carrying barberries where I live. You can find dried goji berries, often in bulk, at natural foods stores. Soak the goji berries (or barberries if you can locate some) in 2 cups of cold water for at least 15 minutes or until they’ve plumped up. Drain, saving the liquid to put into a smoothie (or just drink it as goji berries are a superfood), and add the berries to the rice along with lightly toasted almonds or pistachios. It’s worth the necessary extra steps to make chelo as it elevates rice to a new level.

Persian Steamed Rice (Chelo)
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  1. 2 cups Basmati rice, or substitute other uncooked long grain rice
  2. salt
  3. 7 cups water
  4. 1/4 teaspoon”>saffron threads , ground with a mortar and pestle or in an electric spice grinder
  5. 4 tablespoons melted butter
  6. Freshly ground black pepper and a large pinch dried sumac (if available)
  7. 1 cup dried barberries or substitute dried gogi berries (optional)
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  9. 1/4 - 1/3 cup coarsely chopped, toasted almonds or pistachios (optional)
  1. Wash rice in a fine sieve or colander set under warm running water until the draining water runs clear. Place the rice in a large bowl or pot, add 1/4 cup of salt and enough cold water to cover it by about 1 inch and soak for about 2 hours.
  2. Blend saffron with 2 tablespoons hot, but not boiling, water. Set aside to steep.
  3. In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan with tight fitting lid, bring 6 cups water to boil. Drain rice thoroughly and pour it into the boiling water in a slow, thin stream so the water does not stop boiling. Stir once or twice, then boil briskly, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly in a sieve.
  4. Pour 1 cup of fresh water and the melted butter, black pepper, sumac, vanilla saffron and water into the saucepan and pour in the parboiled rice, mounding it slightly in the middle of the pan. Cover with a damp towel, then add the lid, and simmer over moderate to low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice grains are tender and have absorbed all the liquid in the pan.
  5. If you are adding the saffron chicken to this dish, on a platter, scoop out 1/3 of the rice, then layer the chicken over it. Then place the balance of the rice onto the platter and scrape the tahig out, breaking it into pieces and scattering it over the top of the rice. Finally, add the berries and pistachios, if using, over the top of the rice. Decorate with fresh herbs if desired.


Patricia Rain
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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (, a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.
Patricia Rain
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