Chelo Persian Rice Pilaf (with Grilled Steak and Tomatoes)

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A couple years ago, The Kid and I were invited to a party at a friend’s house and we were lucky enough that the party was catered by a Persian catering company. Yes, there really is such a thing and it was a foodie delight! There were kebabs (or are they kabobs?), koobideh, breads, and massive amounts of delish food. One of the best things I had that night (besides the koobideh) was a crispy saffron rice dish called Chelo Rice.

It was a golden crunchy rice pie for lack of a better term, even though it’s officially a pilaf. It’s rice that is cooked over high heat with butter and yogurt until a crust is formed on the bottom. After it’s done, they flip it out of the pan onto a plate and slice into it like a pie. The bottom crispy texture and buttery flavor blends perfectly with the softer salty top.

Since I have a massive bag of rice, I figured I would give my own version of Chelo Rice a try and see what I could come up with that was lower in fat and dairy free. I can’t call this authentic but I thought it was pretty good for a first try. I wasn’t quite adventurous enough to attempt koobideh but I did throw together grilled steak and tomatoes to go alongside.

Chelo Persian Rice Pilaf (with Grilled Steak and Tomatoes) Chelo Persian Rice Pilaf

  • 1 medium onion (apprx 1 cup), sliced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 16 oz sirloin steak, cubed
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup (180g) uncooked white rice
  • 2 Tbsp butter or non-dairy butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed saffron threads
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, optional

Place the onion, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor or magic bullet and blend until pureed. Pour the mixture into a plastic baggie and add the steak cubes. Marinate in the fridge for about 8 hours or overnight. I dumped mine together the first evening and just refrigerated it until the following evening when I was ready to make dinner.

Cook the rice according to package directions. I used my rice steamer and made the rice while I walked the dog to save time. Melt the butter in a small bowl and stir in the olive oil and saffron. Mix in 2 Tbsp of water. Heat a skillet with a lid over medium high heat and pour about half of the butter mixture into the pan. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.

Spread about 1/3 of the cooked rice in the bottom of the pan. Pat it gently onto the bottom with wet fingers to form a base. Don’t stir, just pat down. Think crust because you’re forming a rice crust. Top with the remaining rice and drizzle the rest of the butter mixture on top. Take a clean dish towel and place it over the top of the rice inside the pan. You probably have to fold the edges in a bit. Cover with the lid and cook on medium high heat for 3 – 4 minutes while the crust starts to brown.

Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes until the rice starts to get crispy. The dish towel is in there to absorb the steam and liquid so the rice crisps up. Otherwise, you’ll just have buttery rice. Remove the lid and towel when done. Remove from heat and place a large plate upside down over the top of the skillet. Flip the skillet over to get the rice onto the plate in one large piece. Mine came out pretty quickly with a small shake since the butter helped keep the bottom unstuck.

Remove the steak from the marinade and preheat a grill or the broiler on your oven. Grill or broil the steak and grape tomatoes until the beef is cooked to your liking and the tomatoes start to char and soften. Remove from heat. Slice the rice into 4 pieces and top with the steak and grilled tomatoes. Garnish with the onions, cilantro, mint and lemon slices if desired.

Makes 4 servings at approximately 397 calories each – 21g protein, 40g carbs, 17g fat.


  • I used Earth Balance Soy Free Non-Dairy Butter in this recipe due to The Kid’s dairy allergy. You can use real butter or margarine if you prefer.
  • Official chelo uses basmati rice and has several steps of rinsing and draining the rice before cooking. I used plain long grain white rice with no rinsing at all.
  • Topping with the onions and herbs is purely optional so feel free to just eat it straight up.

The saffron gave the rice a gorgeous sunny color and distinct taste. I haven’t used saffron much in the past but the flavor is really addicting and I’m finding plenty of ways to work it into recipes. If you’re looking for another sunny dish, check out the Saffron Rice Risotto and Saffron Quinoa with Zucchini Ribbons for two more options.

Now if only I can Questify koobideh. Surely there’s a way. 😉 Eating right while losing weight is entirely possible while still enjoying foods like Chelo Rice and all the other recipes you’ll find on my site. Keeping meals balanced with calories, protein, veggies, while including colors, flavors and textures really helps.

If you’re interested in learning more about working with me, check out what some of my clients have to say. Assessments are free and I’d love to learn more about you.

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