Tahdig is the crispy, golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot when rice is cooked. It is considered the most delicious part of the Persian meal. Imagine a crispy tahdig layer and a savory chicken filling in every bite. That's what Persian tahdig rice balls are all about!
The next time you're looking to spruce up your lunch, I hope you'll try my recipe for these tahdig rice balls. They're also perfect as a snack on the go, a side dish with a curry or stew, or as a crowd pleasing appetizer. After all, who can resist Persian crispy rice?
Watch my short tutorial on this crispy Persian tahdig rice ball recipe!
Ingredients for Tahdig Rice Balls
Here are a list of the main ingredients you will need:
- short grain sushi white rice
- sumac (optional, but adds flavor and color)
- dried dill (also optional, but adds flavor and color)
- chicken breast
- chicken kabab seasoning
- white or yellow onion
- avocado oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil
Equipment and Supplies You May Need:
- Plastic wrap
- Cookie scoop or spoon
- Non-stick pot and nonstick pan
- Small bowl (3-4 inches wide) or small cup
What is Sumac?
Sumac is a crimson red colored spice made from dried berries from the sumac bush. It has a sour, slightly fruity flavor and is often sprinkled on top of fluffy rice dishes. While it has some medicinal properties, it is commonly used as a condiment in Persian cuisine.
Short Grain Sushi Rice vs. Long-Grain Basmati Rice
Basmati long-grain rice is light and fluffy when cooked, with individual grains that separate easily. It is fragrant and has a slightly nutty flavor. Short grain, also called Japanese rice, has a sticky texture and a mild flavor. This type of rice is also used for sushi rolls and Japanese traditional onigiri. Here is an easy onigiri recipe.
What is in the Chicken Kabab Seasoning?
Chicken kabab seasoning is a blend of flavors that evokes the taste of juje kabab, or grilled chicken skewers. It includes onions, limes, paprika, saffron, parsley, salt, and black pepper. In this recipe, I am not using the traditional method of grilling chicken kabab, but this spice mix captures the essence of the flavors without the hassle.
Please refer to recipe card below for quantities and an easy to print recipe.
Instructions for Making Tahdig Rice Balls with Chicken
Cook the Rice
Rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Using very hot water to rinse the rice can result in soggy rice.
Place the rice in a nonstick pot under medium-high heat. Add 3 cups of water, butter and salt. You can cook rice per my instructions in the recipe card below, or follow the directions of your rice cooker.
This is optional, but I like to flavor the rice two different ways. I split the cups of rice into two medium bowls. Then, I add the dried dill to one medium bowl and the sumac to the other.
Make the Chicken Filling
Chop the chicken, then add the spice mix to it. Mix together and allow it to marinate for 10 minutes.
Add the chicken to a hot pan or non-stick skillet with enough hot oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the thinly sliced onion and sauté until the chicken is cooked through.
Assemble the Crispy Tahdig Rice Balls with Chicken Filling
- Place a sheet of plastic wrap in a bowl.
- Add a scoop of rice to the center of the plastic wrap.
- Use the back of a cookie scoop or your wet hands to spread the rice out evenly.
- Add a scoop of meat to the center of the rice.
- Top with another scoop of rice.
- Use your hand or the back of a cookie scoop dipped in water to flatten the top.
- Gather the plastic wrap around the balls of rice and twist it tightly to form round shapes.
- Firmly press the rice ball to make sure it holds its shape.
Freeze the individually wrapped rice balls for at least 15 minutes before frying. This will help hold the rice together and ensure a crispy crust and golden color all around. There is no need to thaw before pan-frying or air-frying.
Make Ahead and Storage
These crunchy rice tahdig balls can be prepared in advance, frozen, and fried the day you want to eat them. They can be stored in the freezer, individually wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a zip-top bag for up to 3 months. Simply take them out of the freezer, carefully remove the plastic wrap, and pan-fry or air-fry them without any thawing before hand. If the plastic wrap is stuck to the rice, thaw it for a few minutes before peeling it off.
Delicious Variations Using Different Ingredients
Stew Filled Tahdig Rice Balls
Fill the tahdig rice balls with stew. To do this, simply strain the stew to remove any excess liquid, then fill the rice balls with the stewed meat, herbs, and vegetables. For a more cohesive filling, I recommend chopping any larger pieces. Popular Persian rice dishes such as Gheimeh, Khoreshteh Karafs, or Fesenjoon are great options for savory fillings. For an extra touch, add saffron to the rice at the same time as the salt and butter.
Vegetarian Tahdig Rice Balls
For vegetarian tahdig rice balls, I recommend fillings such as pan fried tofu, sautéed mushrooms, or grilled eggplant. Be sure to season the fillings liberally to ensure a flavorful center. For a more cohesive filling, I recommend chopping any larger pieces.
Beef Kabab Tahdig Rice Balls
To make beef kabab (kabab koobideh) tahdig rice balls, simply replace the chicken with ground beef. Cook the beef the same way as the chicken, but use a ground beef seasoning. You can purchase this already made, or make it yourself with common ingredients such as onion powder, sumac, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.
Yes, you can leave them out! They are meant to add extra flavor to the rice, but if you don't like those flavors, omit them.
For perfect rice every time, always rinse the rice well to wash away residual starch. This will prevent your rice from gelatinizing during cooking.
Add just enough water based on the instructions on the package. Too little water can result in hard or uncooked rice, while too much water can result in mushy rice. Be sure to check the cooking time on the package.
Yes, the cooking process matters less than the end result. The rice should be sticky and neither too wet nor too dry. In an Asian rice cooker, simply add a little bit of salt, tablespoons of the butter, and rice with the water. Then, follow the directions of your rice cooker to ensure proper cooking.
No, long grain rice will not produce good results. I have experimented with both, and the rice balls will not stay intact through the frying process. Short grain rice is the best type of rice to use for this recipe. You can be find it at most grocery stores. This is the one that I use.
I recommend cooking the rice the day you plan to assemble the rice balls, as fresh rice is best for this recipe. Freshly cooked rice is sticky and will hold together better than cold rice. However, if you do need to use day-old rice, you can refresh it by heating it in the microwave with a damp paper towel or kitchen towel on top.
Yes, rice is naturally gluten free, as are all of the other ingredients I have used in this recipe.
Yes, I used a chicken breast because I can control the amount of fat in my meat, but it can be more convenient to purchase ground meat from your local grocery store.
No, although you will be frying the rice balls, the filling ingredients should be cooked before adding them. This is because frying the rice balls will not cook the filling ingredients thoroughly enough to make it safe to eat.
You actually need much less oil when air frying compared to pan frying. I brush just enough oil on the outside of the rice ball before placing it in the air fryer, in a single layer with space in between. This helps to create a crispy crust without making the rice ball greasy. The shape of the rice ball also stays intact better when air frying, similar to as when you cook this in a deep fryer.
Top Tips for Making Tahdig Rice Balls
- To get the best results, make sure your filling is not wet. Too much liquid can make the rice balls soggy and fall apart when frying.
- When assembling the rice balls, have a bowl of water nearby to dip your fingers or cookie scoop in. This will help you form the rice balls without them sticking to your cookie scoop or hands.
- Like traditional tahdig, these rice balls will soften in the refrigerator the next day. To restore the crispy layer, simply fry them in the air fryer or frying pan for several minutes.
Did You Make the Recipe?
Crispy Persian Tahdig Rice Balls with Filling
- 2 cups short grain sushi rice
- 3 cups water
- 1 ½ tablespoon butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ tablespoon sumac optional, but adds flavor and color
- ½ tablespoon dried dill optional, but adds flavor and color
- 1 chicken breast medium sized
- 1-2 teaspoon chicken kabob seasoning
- 1 onion medium sized
- 2 tablespoon neutral oil
Make the Rice
- Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh strainer until the water runs clear.
- Add the rice to a pot and add 3 cups of water, 1.5 Tbs butter and ½ teaspoon salt.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to low, then cover and allow to simmer for 18-20 minutes, or until the water has evaporated.
- Remove the pot from the heat. It should sit covered for 8-10 minutes.
- Divide the rice evenly into two bowls. Add the dried dill to one bowl and the sumac to the other. (Optional but recommended)
- Mix well and set aside.
Make the Chicken Filling
- Finely chop the chicken breast to resemble course ground meat.
- Add the chicken kabab seasoning, or substitute with a similar seasoning.
- Allow the marinated chicken to rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
- Heat up a pan with oil on medium high heat, then sauté the chicken, adding the thinly sliced onions once the meat has been seared on one side.
- Sauté until meat is cooked through and onions are soft, then set aside.
Assemble the Rice Balls
- Place a piece of plastic wrap in a small bowl.
- Using a spoon or cookie scoop, add one scoop of rice to the center of the plastic wrap.
- Spread the rice out evenly with the back of a cookie scoop or your fingers, moistening your hands with water to prevent sticking.
- Add a scoop of meat to the center of the rice.
- Top with another scoop of rice, making sure to cover the meat completely.
- Flatten the top of the rice ball with your hand or the back of a cookie scoop dipped in water.
- Gather the plastic wrap around the rice ball and twist it tightly to form a ball.
- Apply some pressure to rice to make sure it is firm all around.
- Freeze for at least 15 minutes to firm up the rice balls, or up to 3 months for long term storage.
Pan Frying or Air Frying
For Pan Frying
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small non-stick pan over medium heat. Add more oil if necessary, depending on the size of your pan.
- Add several of the rice balls to the pan and fry for 4-6 minutes before turning to another side.
- Flip the rice balls only when the side is golden brown.
- Serve while it's hot or enjoy later in the day.
For Air Frying
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Brush each rice ball with oil.
- Place the rice balls in the air fryer and set the timer for 12 minutes. They should not be overcrowded.
- Flip the rice balls and set for an additional 10-15 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.
- Serve while they are hot or enjoy later in the day.