Total time: 1 hour, plus 1 to 2 hours soaking time
Servings:6 to 8
Note: Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian newspaper, based on his adaptation of a recipe from Claudia Roden's "A Book of Middle Eastern Food."
3 cups basmati rice
4 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup butter, divided
3/4 cup roughly chopped, skin-on almonds
5 medjool dates, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
1. Rinse the rice well under running cold water, then put the rice in a large bowl, cover it with lukewarm water and stir in 2 tablespoons of salt. Soak for 1 to 2 hours, then drain and rinse again.
2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add 2 more tablespoons of salt, then add the rice and boil gently for 3 to 4 minutes, until almost cooked. Check by trying a grain: It should still have a bit of bite to it. Drain, rinse and set aside to completely drain.
3. In the same pan, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the almonds until slightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped dates, cook for a couple of minutes more, then stir in one-half teaspoon of white pepper, one-half teaspoon salt and half the rice.
4. Gently flatten this down, tapping the pan on the stove to flatten the rice, then spoon the remaining rice on top, forming a cone.
5. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over the top, along with 3 tablespoons water. Cover the pan with a tight lid and cook on the lowest possible heat for 35 minutes (a heat diffuser helps). Turn off the heat, spoon over the saffron and its water, cover with a tea towel, put the lid back on and set aside for 10 minutes.
6. Serve hot, using a large spoon so that you have portions in which the two layers are distinct and separate.