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Chelow and Tahdig (Persian Rice – The expert way)

Create rice with perfectly tender, separate and fluffy grains with a crunchy layer of crispy rice called Tahdig. This is the beloved way Iranians make rice. Once you master the skill, you are unlikely to make rice any other way!

What is Chelow?

Chelow is the name given to the white fluffy grains of rice either served with our kebabs or khoresh (stews) in Iranian cuisine. We also have Kateh, which refers to our version of easy-cook sticky rice, and polo, which refers to our rice cooked with vegetables,  herbs and/or meat (similar to the Asian biryani).

Polo follows the same cooking procedure as chelow but has the added stage of preparing and cooking the ingredients to be mixed in to the rice. Kateh is simple as you boil and steam the rice without draining the water by letting it evaporate in the saucepan. Kateh tends to be reserved for family weekday meals.

What is Tahdig?

The common feature in the various Persian rice options is that they all yield the crispy rice, which forms at the bottom of the cooking pot, called ‘Tahdig’. Tahdig literally translated means ‘bottom of the pot’ and is the most cherished part of our meals. I don’t think I have ever met someone who dislikes tahdig!

Although kateh is the easiest way of cooking Persian-style rice it does not yield a tahdig as superior as chelow or polo. Therefore you are rewarded for going the extra mile with the slightly more complicated way of cooking rice.

To achieve the perfect fluffy rice and golden tahdig is a commitment. Despite this, even the veteran chelow and tahdig cooker sometimes has an off day with rice coming out a bit mushy and the tahdig burnt. So don’t be hard on yourself if you commit to this journey and it takes a while to master it. 

Tahdig Varieties

Now while chelow has a standard set of preparation and cooking steps, tahdig has a number of different options available. The most common are rice, potato or flatbread options. See the pictures above for examples.

As with the evolution of many cuisines, experiments have been undertaken to explore new ways of reinventing a classic. In the case of tahdig people have experimented with ingredients to see if they can create a new type of tahdig as good as the originals. I’ve seen tahdigs made with lettuce, fish and chicken. 

Ingredients and Equipment to Make Chelow & Tahdig

  • White long grain basmati rice – if you want to cook authentic Persian style rice this is the perfect rice to use. You can buy this from your local supermarket or local Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops. I recommend Tilda.
  • Saffron – is needed for the Tahdig layer and potentially for serving it (see ‘How to serve Chelo & Tahdig’ below). Always grind your saffron strands into a fine powder after purchasing. For utilisation in Persian cooking, always bloom in water as directed in recipe.
  • Salt – try not to baulk at the amount of salt used. Rice needs a lot of salt as it can be quite bland and the boiling stage washes a lot away. Taste a grain or two of your rice at step 6 of the recipe below. If it tastes too salty just pour a little cold water over your parboiled rice to wash some away. 
  • Neutral flavoured oil – used to create the Tahdig layer. 
  • Butter / ghee / or vegan equivalent – used for the Tahdig layer but also to drizzle over the rice pre steaming to create fluffy separate grains.
  • A good quality non-stick saucepan with a glass lid – essential kit to make the perfect chelow and tahdig, particularly if you want to flip the rice out as a contained cake-style rice encased in tahdig.
  • A small-hole colander or sieve – to drain the rice.
  • A clean tea towel – an absolute must as it aids the steaming of the rice by absorbing the water droplets, which would otherwise form on the lid of your saucepan and fall back on to the rice making it mushy.

Steps to Make Chelow

Chelow has a 6-step-process to follow, summarised below:

  1. Wash the rice. Removes the starch from the rice in order to assist in producing a tender fluffy grain. It also assists in the rice being more nutritious.
  2. Soak the rice. Not all consider this stage is necessary any more in light of the quality of long grain basmati rice available, however it is of note that some famous brands recommend soaking their rice for 30 minutes pre cooking. Soaking the rice promotes more thorough cooking by allowing moisture to reach the centre of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible.
  3. Par boil the rice until al dente. The first stage of the cooking process, which partially cooks the rice.
  4. Drain the rice. The rice does not continue to cook in the cooking liquid but is steamed with the water already absorbed into the rice from step 3 and an additional small amount of water.
  5. Prepare the Tahdig layer and then layer remaining rice on top. The tahdig layer is placed at the bottom of the pot on a little saffron water and oil and / or butter before the rest of the rice is layered on top. A little water and melted butter is poured over the rice to assist with the final cooking stage.
  6. Steam the rice. The rice is steamed with a lid covered in a tea-towel to create our beloved chelow and tahdig.

How to Serve Chelow & Tahdig

The recipe below sets out steps to serve the chelow and tahdig as a cake-style, tahdig encased rice as seen in the first set of pictures above.

For larger quantities, once the rice has cooked, I recommend spooning the rice out and serving it on one plate and then serving your tahdig separately on another dish. The latter is usually garnished with saffron coloured rice sprinkled on top (see picture). In my family we use a little rose water when blooming the saffron for the rice garnish as it adds a delicate floral note to the chelow, so if you want to present your rice this way then it is worth getting your hands on some rose water from your local Middle-Eastern food shop.

Simply mix a little cooked rice with saffron bloomed in a little water and rose water until it takes on a golden hue. Then sprinkle the saffron rice on top of the plain white rice and then serve.

As a final note, the primary recipe below is to make chelow with rice tahdig. Refer to the ‘Alternative Step’ sections below for guidance on how to make potato or flatbread tahdig.


Check out my Reel on How to Cook Chelow and Tahdig


Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice - the expert way
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 10 minutes
Course: Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig
Servings: 4 to 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer


  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (standard UK measuring cup capacity 250 ml - approx 400 grams of rice)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil plus extra if you are making potato or flatbread tahdig as per 'Alternative Step' sections below
  • 2 to 3 tbsp ghee / butter / vegan equivalent


Wash and Soak the Rice

  • Wash rice in cold water until water runs clear. Be gentle, otherwise you will damage and break the grains.
  • Place rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above the top. Leave to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (I leave mine overnight and cook the rice during the afternoon of the day after).

Parboil the Rice

  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Place over high heat and bring water to a boil.
  • Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir to make sure it does not stick to the pan.
  • Stay with the saucepan and do not leave it at this stage. It is crucial that you remove the rice and drain it at the right time. Every minute give it a gentle stir and take a grain and check the texture - either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the grain to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity in this recipe.
  • Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice - if it is very salty then rinse it further with a little water.

Prepare the Tahdig Layer

  • Place the empty saucepan on your stove.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter / ghee / vegan equivalent to the pan and place on a low heat to melt. Then turn the heat off. (See * below for alternative tahdig layers - potato or flatbread).
  • Add your bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
  • To make your tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat down flat with the back of a spoon.
  • Then layer the remaining rice and gently pat down to the shape of the saucepan. Take the end of a tablespoon and gently poke about 5 small holes in the rice to allow steam to escape while cooking. Then pour over 2 tbsp of cold water.
  • Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of melted ghee / butter / vegan equivalent over the rice.

Steam the Rice

  • Place your glass lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once you start to see steam rise from the rice (your glass lid will start to get clear from the steam and droplets of water will start to form on the lid - it is perfectly fine to have a little look under the lid now and again to check the steam situation) lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent on your cooker. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan.
  • Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy and thick layer of tahdig.

Serve the Chelow & Tahdig

  • When the cooking time is over turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Take a serving dish that covers the opening of the saucepan and place it on top. Flip the rice out onto the dish and serve with either a khoresh, kabab, curry or any other dish.

*Alternative Tahdig - Potato Tahdig

  • If you are making potato tahdig, you will need 1 medium-sized potato peeled and sliced into 1.5 cm thick discs. Place the sliced potatoes into a bowl of water to wash off excess starch - this will help during the crisping process while the rice steams. It will also stop the potatoes turning brown as you get the rice ready to steam.
  • For preparing a potato Tahdig layer - add an extra tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bottom of your pot then layer your potatoes at the bottom of the pan on top of the saffron oil (try not to overlap them so they all cook through evenly and crisp up) and then layer your rice on top and pat down to fill any gaps between the potatoes. Then follow subsequent steps of the recipe.

*Alternative Tahdig - Flatbread Tahdig

  • If you are making flatbread tahdig, you will need 1 medium Middle-Eastern style flatbread like lavash or 1 medium white tortilla. 
  • For preparing a flatbread Tahdig - use the flatbread to cover the bottom of the pan  or you can cut shapes into it and layer the bottom surface of the saucepan only. Either way, before layering your flatbread, take a pastry brush and coat your flatbread generously with vegetable oil and then lay it on the saffron oil. Then layer your rice on top and follow the subsequent steps of the recipe. If you are using the whole flatbread to cover the bottom of the saucepan, without cutting shapes, be a little cautious with the timing on lowering the heat to steam the rice as the flatbread can burn quite quickly. As soon as you see steam creeping round the edges of the bread, then turn down the heat and place the lid wrapped with a tea towel on the saucepan. Follow the subsequent steps of the recipe.

A Guide to Essential Ingredients for Persian Dishes

Use this guide to help you stock up on essentials for Persian cooking. In this article you will learn about the core ingredients for many Persian recipes, where to buy them and how to store them.

Saffron (Zafferan)

Saffron is used regularly in Persian cuisine. Even some desserts list it as an ingredient, therefore it is an essential to stock up on.

What is Saffron?

It is a delicate bright red spice harvested from crocus flowers. Sometimes referred to as ‘Red Gold’ because it is the most expensive spice in the world!

The flavour profile is a mixture of floral, musty and bitter. It is used very delicately to flavour Persian dishes so as to enhance and not overpower the other elements it is cooked with.

Why is it so expensive

Harvesting is labour intensive as each crocus flower yields just three stigmas, which are picked by hand and then dried to create the saffron strands. Apparently it takes up to 200,000 individual flowers to yield about half a kilogram of saffron. The resulting saffron strands are deep red (stigmas). The yellow tips you see in the picture above are the styles from the crocus flower. High grade saffron does not include the yellow styles and only has the red stigmas.

How is it used

Saffron is used to flavour and give a vibrant colour to Persian stews, kebabs and some desserts including ice-cream.

To get more out of your saffron, grind the saffron strands following purchase in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Grind the saffron to a fine powder. 

Prior to adding to any dish, always bloom the saffron in water. This will help release the colour and flavour of the saffron and permeate into your dish far better than just sprinkling it in. The process of grinding and blooming is best practice for saffron as it also means your saffron will go further.

Where to buy

I recommend Iranian saffron, which can be bought from Iranian food shops or online.  Alternatively, if you have an Iranian friend then ask them if they have any spare – the generosity of Iranians is well known particularly when it comes to food!

Make sure you are not buying low quality saffron! The picture above is actually an example of low quality saffron as the strands include the yellow styles from the flower

How to store

Store your saffron in an airtight container in somewhere dark, cool and dry.

Recipes using Saffron

Here are a few recipes to try:

Turmeric (Zard Chubeh)

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Its root is used in cooking and is commonly found in powdered form, although the fresh root is becoming more available in the UK. 

A bright orange powder which stains fingers, clothes and work surfaces easily! It has a flavour profile that is earthy, musky and bitter. 

The health benefits of turmeric have been well documented with a focus on its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a superfood and it features heavily in Persian cuisine, particularly in the meat dishes. It flavours the meat and helps to extinguish the pungent meat smell when cooked with onions.

Where to buy

The British love for curry has seen ground turmeric made available in all local supermarkets. I buy mine in bulk markets from a local Asian supermarket.

How to store

Turmeric should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container i.e. spice jar with a screw lid. Hints that you need to replace your turmeric are the colour loses its vibrancy and becomes a dull brown and the aroma is weak. As soon as you open your turmeric jar, the strong musky notes should hit your nose.

Recipes using Turmeric

Here are a few recipes to try:

Basmati White Rice (Berenj)

There is no substitute for this type of rice. It is an absolute must if you want to recreate the many delicious and unique rice dishes.

What is Basmati Rice?

Rice is the seed of a grass species. Basmati is a variety of long-grained aromatic rice primarily grown in Pakistan, India and Nepal.

Long grain white rice, when cooked the Persian way, creates beautiful separate strands of fluffy rice. It involves a four-step process: washing, soaking, boiling and steaming. Some brands are now offering extra-long grain rice, which results in an even more sophisticated looking rice dish, so if you can get your hands on this type of rice, then please do. 

Where to buy

Most UK supermarkets stock it, but you can buy in bulk (10kg bags) and for cheaper if you pop into your local Middle-Eastern or Asian supermarket.

I recommend that you always soak the rice before cooking. Not all consider this stage is necessary anymore in light of the quality of long grain basmati rice available, however it is of note that some famous brands recommend soaking their rice for 30 minutes pre cooking. Soaking the rice promotes more thorough cooking by allowing moisture to reach the centre of the rice grain, allows for better absorption of vitamins and minerals and it further improves the final texture, by making the grain less brittle.

How to store

Keep it in a cool and dry area of your home such as pantry.

Rice Recipes

Persian mixed spice (Advieh)

What is Advieh?

Advieh is the Persian equivalent of mixed spice. It is used in many dishes with the combination of spices varying from region to region in Iran.

Advieh is a fragrant mix of spices and can be compared in use to garam masala in Indian cooking, whereby the addition of advieh seasons the dish and adds a further layer of aroma. It can simply be sprinkled on a plain rice dish, added to stews and marinades for meat.

Where to buy

The advieh I use is a mixture of nutmeg, rose petals, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper. I buy it online from a supplier on Etsy; however, this can also be picked up from most Iranian or Middle-Eastern food shops.   

How to store

It should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container i.e. spice jar with a screw lid. 

Recipes using Advieh

Dried Mint (Nanaa)

What is Mint?

Mint is an aromatic, green perrenial herb. It is a hardy plant and grows abundantly in the UK. Persian recipes priamirly use dried mint but fresh mint is sometimes required.

From being used in dips and salads to being included in some of our hero dishes like Ash Reshteh (a herb, lentil and noodle soup) and Khask-e-Bademjan (an aubergine and caramelised onion dip), it is definitely an essential store cupboard item. 

Where to buy

Like turmeric, this is an easy to source ingredient, with most local supermarkets stocking dried mint in their herbs and spices aisles and fresh mint in the salad section. As it grows abundantly in the UK, feel free to skip the shop bought stuff and make your own. Just dry the leaves in your airing cupboard and grind them.  

How to store

Dried mint should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container. Fresh mint should be stored in the fridge.

Sumac (Somagh)

What is Sumac?

Sumac is derived from the dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower and is used in Persian cooking as a seasoning for a number of dishes including kababs, rice and salads.

It is a tangy spice with a sour and acidic flavour reminiscent of lemon juice. 

Where to buy

Sumac is very easy to get your hands on and can be found in your local supermarket. I recommend buying sumac from your local Iranian or Middle-Eastern food store if you have one near you.

How to store

Store in an airtight container and in a cool, dry area. 

Recipes using Sumac

Dried Limes (Limoo Amani)

What is Limoo Amani?

Limoo Amani are limes which have been brined and then dried in the sun to lose water content. Originating in Oman – hence the Iranian name Limoo (lime) Amani (Oman) – they are used whole, sliced, or ground, as a spice in many Middle-Eastern dishes. They come in both brown and black varieties. The black ones have been dried for longer. 

They are used in Persian cooking to flavour the stews of Ghormeh Sabzi (herb and lamb stew) and Gheymeh (yellow split pea and lamb stew). The limes are pierced and left in the stew to simmer to release their unique and distinct flavour profile of sour, citrusy, earthy, smoky and bitter.  

Where to buy

They can be purchased from an Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store. Alternatively, they can be bought online.

Recipes using Limoo Amani

Rose Water (Gol Ab)

What is Rose Water?

Rose water is water made by steeping rose petals in purified water.

Since ancient times it has been used nutritionally, medicinally and as an ingredient for perfume. Many Middle-Eastern women still use rose water as a facial toner, a natural product and a lot cheaper than modern cosmetic brands.

It is used in Persian, other Middle-Eastern and Indian cuisine, particularly desserts such as ice cream, cakes and biscuits. It is also used in savoury dishes, in particular for scenting rice dishes, adding a unique floral note.

For those of you who may not be familiar with rose water as an ingredient, if you have ever eaten Turkish Delight then you know the effect of adding rose water as an ingredient. 

Where to buy and how to store

You can buy rose water from most Iranian or other Middle-Eastern or Asian food store. You may also find it in your local supermarket. Again, if you can get your hands on Iranian rose water then all the better.

Once opened, store the rose water in the fridge to keep it fresh for longer.

Recipes using Rose Water

Pomegranate Molasses (Rob-e-Anar)

What is Pomegranate Molasses?

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grape colour made from reducing pomegranate juice. The juice is obtained from a tart variety of pomegranate.

The flavour profile is intensely sweet and sour and it is primarily used in a Persian stew made with walnuts, called Fesenjoon. It can also be used for salad dressings and desserts.

The Northern Province of Iran uses pomegranate molasses for a number of their recipes including Kal Kabab (a smoked aubergine dip); Zeytoon Parvardeh (marinated olives); and kabab Torsh (meat marinated in a paste made of pomegranate molasses, garlic and crushed walnuts and then cooked on a charcoal fire).

Where to buy and how to store

You can pick it up at some local supermarkets. You can also buy it online or from your local Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store.

Store in the fridge once you have opened the bottle.

Recipes using Pomegranate Molasses

Pistachios (Pesteh)

What are Pistachios?

Pistachios are nuts and a member of the cashew family, growing on small trees originating from Central Asia and the Middle East. 

Whether in their shells, oven dried and salted, in bowls as nibbles at family parties, or used as fresh bright green kernels in Persian dishes such as Shirin Polo (a sweet and savoury rice served with chicken), pistachios are synonymous with the Persian culture. 

Where to buy and how to store

For the purposes of cooking some of the dishes on this site you will need fresh pistachio kernels, which are a vivid green with no skin on them, which you can buy from your local Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store.

Store them in the fridge in order to retain flavour and freshness.

Recipes using Pistachios

Fenugreek (Shambalileh)

What is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek is an aromatic Mediterranean plant that produces long pods containing light brown seeds which have a slightly bitter taste. Roasted and ground, they are used as a flavouring in curries. The leaves from the plant (often sold as methi) can be used in salads, and both fresh and dried leaves are used in Persian and Indian cookery.

The seeds and the leaves have a strong aroma and the smell is instantly recognisable if you have had your fair share of curries or eaten everyone’s favourite Iranian stew – Ghormeh Sabzi (herb stew with lamb).  

Fenugreek is used in the famous Persian lamb, kidney bean and herb stew, Ghormeh Sabzi. It is also used in Meygoo Polo (prawn rice) and Eshkeneh (a potato and onion egg-drop soup).

Where to buy and how to store

I source my fresh and dried fenugreek / methi from my local Asian supermarket. Keep fresh leaves in the fridge or freezer and dried fenugreek in an airtight container somewhere cool and dry.  


What is Kashk?

Persian kashk (other Middle-Eastern countries have their own versions of kashk) is made from fermented sour milk or yoghurt. It is also used to describe dried buttermilk.

It comes in liquid or dried form. The dried form is often found in balls which are soaked in water to create the liquid kashk used in Persian dishes. I prefer the liquid form as it is quicker and easier to cook with.

It has a unique flavour profile that is sour and a little cheesy. I’m probably not selling this to you right now but it is a truly delightful addition to some of our famous dishes: Kashkeh Bademjan (the kashk is mixed in to an aubergine dish made with caramelised onions, garlic and mint); and Ash Reshteh (the kashk is mixed into a delicious herb, lentil and noodle soup).

Where to buy and how to store

You can buy kashk from Middle-Eastern food stores or online. Keep in the fridge once opened. If you have bought a large jar, then decant into smaller portions and freeze.