My grandma’s famous Iraqi red rice is THE rice that guests will come back for. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside – YES!
I grew up with my grandma making this rice for my family every week, and I am so happy that she taught me how to make it before she passed. It’s one of many Iraqi Jewish dishes she showed me. Rice like this with a crispy crust is very typical in Iraqi and Iranian cuisines, and there are many different variations. Iranians call the crispy part Tahdig, but my Iraqi family calls it Hakaka, and it’s by far my favorite part of the rice.
I am actually breaking a rule with this one, as the crispy rice is typically served with the onions alone OR nuts and dried fruits. But isn’t the fun of cooking to sometimes mix up traditions?
This Iraqi red rice is amazing with anything: grilled foods, stews, braises, you name it (I actually love to serve it with My Best Spiced Chicken Skewers)! For this version I chose to make the rice in a pot, however, you can definitely use a pan as well for a flatter cake of rice. It doesn’t really matter, I’ve done both. Just make sure to use a non-stick so the rice comes out easily.
- Basmati Rice – This is a must, the rice will not be the same without it! You should be able to find it in most grocery stores. Some brands are better than others, so look for the brand of basmati rice with the longest grain.
- Tomato Paste – This is what gives the rice its orangey-red color.
- Avocado Oil – I love using avocado oil for cooking when I am sautéing, stir fry-ing, or searing. It has a high smoke point, which means it can get very hot before it starts to smoke and burn, similar to other neutral oils, like vegetable or canola. However, it’s SO MUCH healthier than those oils, almost as healthy as olive oil. You can read more about it here. If you want, you can substitute olive oil or grapeseed oil, but you should be able to find avocado oil in most grocery stores.
- Pine Nuts – You can definitely substitute slivered almonds for pine nuts here, they’re both excellent!
My Grandma’s Famous Iraqi Red Rice
- Place the basmati rice in a medium-sized bowl and cover completely with water so that there is about an inch of water on top of the rice. Let soak for 1 hour, then drain.
- Place water, tomato paste, half the avocado oil, and the kosher salt in a medium-sized non-stick sauce pot or pan (use a large pot/pan if doubling the recipe). Bring to a simmer over high heat, then add the soaked rice and bring to a simmer again. Cover and turn to low heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the rice just absorbs the water.
- Take the rice out of the pot/pan and put into a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, if needed. Put remaining avocado oil back into the same pot you cooked the rice in, making sure the entire surface inside the pot is well oiled, even the sides. Then put in the sliced onion and pine nuts, spreading them out evenly over the bottom of the pot. Cover with the cooked rice and even out the top.
- Place the pot/pan over medium-low heat on top of a heat diffuser. This will allow the rice to crust on all sides without burning the bottom. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, rotating the pot every 15 minutes for even heat on all the different sides, until crust is formed, You can tell by looking at the ring of rice on the surface of the pot/pan.
- When ready to serve, take a round serving dish and place it facing down on top of the pot. Using oven mitts, hold the bottom of the plate with one hand and the pot handle with the other. Flip the pot and the plate together so that the pot is on top of the plate, and place them both on the counter. Lift the pot to reveal an evenly crusted cake of rice. Serve right away.