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[Photograph: Brys Stephens]

While it may not have the superstar status of other quintessentially Southern ingredients like country ham or collards, rice is a vital part of any Southern table, especially in the low country region around the Carolina coast. Brys Stephens's chapter on rice in his cookbook, The New Southern Table, explores varieties and preparations of the grain from everywhere from Thailand to his own home state of South Carolina. (Carolina Gold rice is prized for its creamy texture and sweet flavor.) His recipe for chicken and rice borrows flavors from Persian cuisine and is imbued with the floral fragrance of saffron. Hearty slices of golden beets echo the color of the saffron-tinted rice while grounding the flavor with deep earthiness.

Why I picked this recipe: Chicken and rice is a wonderfully comforting dish; building it with floral saffron made the dish perfect for spring.

What worked: I loved the pureed carrot and aromatics trick, as it kept the bright golden color intact while infusing the rice with a soft vegetal sweetness.

What didn't: The beets weren't totally cooked through by the time the rice and chicken were done. Next time, I'd slice them thinner (around 1/4-inch thick).

Suggested tweaks: You could use red beets instead of golden, but the dish will turn purple. A better bet would be to use sliced carrots.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The New Southern Table to give away this week.

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