Iranian Saffron Barberry Rice with Chicken (Zereshk Polow ba Morgh)

Zereshk or barberry is typically used in Persian dishes ranging from Iran to Western Afghanistan. Each bright glowing berry resembles a jewel which is packed with vitamin C. What does it taste like? It is very tart. Your mouth will quench as if you have just had a spoonful of lime juice. It is very powerful. The barberry is usually mixed with a tad bit of sugar to sweet the tart flavor. It is typically served along side saffron chicken and basmati rice.  There are many variations to Zereshk polo depending on the region of the country.
6
Ingredients (Serving 4)
 
  • 4 cups long-grain basmati rice
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2 peeled onions, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 cups dried barberries (zereshk), cleaned, washed, and drained
  • 2/3 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered pistachios (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered dried orange peels (optional)
Instructions
 
Chicken
  1. Saute onions in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent, add garlic until golden then add the pieces of chicken and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat.  Once chicken changes color from pink to white on the outside, add 1 tablespoon of turmeric and 2 cups of water. Cook on medium-high heat with lid covered for 1 hour (or more depending on the size of your chicken).
  2. Once ready, add 1 tablespoon of saffron and put aside.
Barberry
  1. Clean the barberries by removing their stems and placing the berries in a colander. Place colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.
  2. Sauté 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons butter, add barberries and cumin, and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tablespoons sugar, mix well, and set aside
Note: If you prefer a tangy flavor reduce the amount of sugar. If you prefer a sweeter dish, add more sugar. Adjust to taste. 
Saffron Flavored Steamed Rice
 
  1. Bring 8 cups of water with 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains. If the rice feels soft, it is ready. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups of cold water.
  2. In a bowl, mix 3 spatulas of rice, 2 tablespoons yogurt, 3/4 cup butter or oil, 1/2 cup water, a few drops of dissolved saffron water, and the cumin seeds.
  3. In the pot, spread the yogurt-rice mixture over the bottom of the pot and pack down. This will help to create a tender golden crust (tah dig) when rice is cooked.
  4. Take one spatula full of drained rice at a time and gently place it on top of the yogurt and rice mixture, gradually shaping the rice into a pyramid. This shape leaves room for the rice to expand and enlarge. Poke one or two holes in the rice pyramid with the handle of a wooden spatula.
  5. Cover and cook rice for 10 to 15 minutes over medium-high heat in order to form a golden crust.
  6. Dissolve the remaining butter in 1 cup hot water and pour over the rice pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or 2 layers of paper towels over the pot and cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over medium-low heat.
  7. Remove the pot from heat. Allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. This helps to free the crust from the bottom of the pot. There are two ways to serve the rice. The first is to hold the serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot and invert the two together unmolding the entire mount onto the platter. The rice will emerge as a golden crusted cake. Serve in wedges. The second way is to put 2 tablespoons of rice in a dish, mix with remaining saffron water, and set aside for garnish.
  8. Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with the saffron-flavored rice, some of the barberry mixture, and almonds and pistachios. Places pieces of chicken around your serving dish making the rice the center of the display.
  9. Detach the layer of crust from the bottom using a wooden spatula. Place into a small platter and serve on the side or arrange it around the rice. Enjoy! 
Continue Reading

Kalam Polow Shirazi (Cabbage herbed rice with meatballs)- Iranian Cuisine

Kalam Polo Shirazi (from the region of Shiraz) was introduced into the family by my father. His love for this fragrant Iranian rice dish dates back to his childhood in Shiraz where my grandmother’s cooking reigned.  Years later he had to ask around in order to obtain the recipe  asking siblings and cousins. Finally, he got his hands on the recipe which surely had changd over the years. Ever so often coming home from school I would smell the herbs from outside. I knew he missed his mom. He would make it whenever feeling nostalgic or missing my grandmother. I had never attempted to make Kalam Polow until recently I had a major unexpected craving for it. I think I just missed my father and thought by making his signature dish I’d fill the void brought by the distance. 
 

Unfortunately, I was not able to find white cabbage and had to use red cabbage. It has to be made with red cabbage but I can’t say it tasted too different and the Count and I really enjoyed the rich flavors and colorful dish that resulted from using red cabbage. 
Note: if you grew up hating cabbage. Don’t worry as this dish will make you change your mind. I myself am not a big fan of cabbage but when eating it in this dish- it tastes delicious. 
Ingredients: 
 
2 cups of rice
4 cups of shredded white cabbage
1onion (grated)
1 lbs ground beef
1 teaspoon of turmeric
 
2 cups of fresh parsley
2 cups of fresh cilantro
2 cups of chives
2 cups of Persian basil
1/2 cup tarragon
1 cup fresh dill (or dry dill)
salt and pepper 
olive oil 
 
Instructions: 
 
1. Grate onion into small pieces, remove the onion juice. Mix the onion with the ground beef. Add salt and pepper and turmeric and mix with the meat and onions. 
2. Roll small pieces of meat mix into meatballs. You want the meatballs to be on the smaller side. 

3. Cook meatballs in a lightly oiled pan. 

4. Shred white cabbage into small pieces (here I’ve used red but again please use white)

5. Saute shredded cabbage in a slightly oiled pan until cooked. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of turmeric. 

6. Chop all the herbs into small fine pieces. 

7. Mix the herbs with the sauteed cabbage and add to the meatballs. Turn heat off. 

8. Place mix aside while preparing your rice. 

9. When your rice is ready, remove from pan. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add layers of thinly sliced potatoes. Add one layer of rice and another layer of mixture. Continue layering and gently mix pot to mix the ingredients together. Finish with a thin layer of rice. With the bottom of your spatula make several holes in your rice layer without touching the bottom of the pot. This allows the steam to reach the top. Cook for 30 minutes on low heat (so that the potatoes don’t burn- mine burnt here a bit 🙁 ). 
 
10. Serve with rice and pickled torshee. 
Continue Reading

Sabzi Polo Mahee (Fish and Persian Herbed Rice)

The weather has warmed up, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the Canadian geese are back from their winter trip down south in Mexico (I admire them). It can only mean one thing: Spring is here which means its also time for Persian New Year. On the day of the new year, Persians all over the world get together with family to have the famous sabzi polo meal. This is equivalent to Turkey dinner at Christmas. 


Sabzi polo is a colorful green version of the famous Persian polo (rice) dish. The green comes from a variety of fresh herbs including cilantro, parsley, dill and scallions. Sabzi polo is traditionally served with white fish but in my family we have replaced it with  fresh sockeye salmon given that we live in the mecca of fresh salmon. It is a really healthy meal and perfect for any time of year.  Here is the recipe for those craving this dish on Norooz or any other day of the year. 

Norooz Potluck with Friends

And happy Norooz to all Persians worldwide. 

Ingredients:


4 c. Basmati rice

4 tbsp canola oil

1 large piece lavash bread or lettuce

1/2 c. scallion tops (greens only), washed & chopped fine

1 1/2 c. flat leaf parsley, washed & chopped fine

1 bunch (4-5 stalks) green garlic, washed but left whole

1 c. cilantro, washed & chopped fine

1 1/2 c. dill, washed & chopped fine


Instructions: 

  1. Soak the rice in well-salted water for a few hours before cooking, changing the water once towards the end of the soak.
  2. Fill a large, heavy pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt.
  3. Add the rice (and the water it was soaking in), and bring it back up to a boil.
  4. Stir gently a couple of times, and keep an eye on the grains – as they begin to turn translucent on the ends, occasionally take one out and chew it – you’re looking for something slight on the crunchier side of “al dente”, but chewable.
  5. Drain the rice in a colander, and run some water over it to rinse off the excess salt.
  6. Add the oil to your pot, along with 1/2 cup of water or milk (to make tahdeeg), and lay the lavash bread  on the bottom in one layer (an alternative to lavash bread is lettuce)
  7. Begin adding the rice and herbs into your pot, but “mounding” everything so that you have a pyramid of sorts at the end. You want to lightly “fluff” the herbs into the rice to incorporate as you go along. The garlic you want to lay about halfway through the mound in one or two layers as needed.
  8. With the handle of a wooden spoon, make a few holes around the mound of rice to create “steam vents”
  9. Wrap the lid of the pot in a clean kitchen towel and secure it, ensuring that the towel is well out of the way of any flame. 
  10. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons water or oil over the top of the rice, and put the lid on (the towel will help absorb the steam so water doesn’t drip back onto the rice).
  11. Cook on high heat for 5-8 minutes until you see steam, and hear a sizzling/crackling coming from the bottom of the pot.
  12. Reduce to medium, and cook for another 15-20 minutes, keeping an ear and nose on things – you don’t want to smell smoke, but you do want to hear light crackling/popping.
  13. Finally, reduce again to medium-low, and cook a final 10-15 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when you smell a “toastiness” from the tahdeeg on the bottom, and the top grains of rice are tender.
Serve this with the fish, which you warm slowly in the oven, and narenj (bitter orange, which is actually tart-bitter). If you can’t find narenj, lemons will do.
Traditionally, this dish is served with white king fish however I choose to use salmon. You can really substitute for any type of fish that you fancy cooked in any way you know best. 
My recipe for cooking the salmon is to place the pieces of fish in foil add lemon pieces and a bit of olive oil to the fish, wrap the fish in the foil and place it in the oven for 15-30 minutes depending on how many pieces of fish you are using. The fish will cook in its own steam leading to one delicious, juicy and healthy dish. 

Continue Reading