Taught to me by Persian Rotem Lieberson.
Yogurt is the secret ingredient. It seems complicated. It’s not. I promise you can do it!
1½ cups good-quality jasmine or basmati rice
2 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
10 saffron strands (optional)
¼ cup labaneh or Greek yogurt
¼ cup vegetable oil
Place the rice in a medium bowl, cover with very cold water (warm water softens the rice too quickly), and soak for 20 to 25 minutes, swishing occasionally. Strain and rinse until the water runs clear (1 minute).
During the last 15 minutes of rice soaking, fill a 6-quart pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Add the rice, salt, turmeric, and saffron, if using, return the water to a boil. Boil until the rice is a lovely golden color and is soft on the outside but still has a bit of a bite, exactly 4 minutes. Drain the rice well, then scoop 2 cups of the rice into a bowl and mix in the labaneh until well incorporated.
Arrange a large, clean kitchen towel on the counter. Place the lid of a 10-inch skillet in the center of the towel, bring the ends of the towel to meet on top of the lid, and tie them so the lid is wrapped in the towel. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until a grain of cooked rice sizzles upon contact.
Add the labaneh-rice mixture to the skillet; spread it out evenly, pressing down slightly. Add the rest of the rice, but don’t press it down (you want this rice to steam and release some of its moisture). Cook until you see some browned bits around the edges, 9 to 10 minutes.
Cover the rice with the cloth-wrapped lid, reduce the heat to very low, and cook until the edges have taken on a deep golden color, 35 minutes. Remove the skillet from the stove and use a knife to loosen the sides.
Fit a round serving platter slightly larger than the skillet’s diameter over the rice. Using two oven mitt-lined hands, flip the rice; there should be a layer of fluffy rice underneath and a single layer of golden, burnished crispy tahdig on top. If not, do what millions have done before you and use a dull knife to gently dislodge the tahdig from the skillet. YUM!