There's a Persian restaurant less than ten minutes from our home and one of my favourite dishes on the menu is the jewelled basmati rice with saffron, or Zereshk Polow. I often order it specially, asking our gracious host: 'May I please have that delicious rice with the barberries'. She knows the one I mean, and always nods and smiles politely.
Barberries are the ripe fruit from a particular species of plant known as Berberis or Pipperidge. When dried, they have a sweet and piquant flavour, and vibrant colour. I love the fruity sourness that they impart to a dish.
I ordered some barberries from Herbies Spices, with plans to making Zereshk Polow at home. Having scanned numerous cookbooks and blogs, searching for a good recipe, I was delighted when Frank Camorra, chef and owner of MoVida, published a salad version in the Sydney Morning Herald. When I asked him via social media I may share my take on it, he kindly said yes. Thank you, chef!
Zereshk Polow is usually served with chicken stew or kabob. The lovely Laura Bashar, from Family Spice, has shared a recipe for Joojeh Kabob here. I think the kabobs would be a perfect accompaniment to this rice.
For the best results, use good quality basmati rice. And store your barberries and pistachios in the freezer, rather than the larder.
PERSIAN RICE WITH BARBERRIES, PISTACHIO AND SAFFRON
200 g basmati rice
a little salt
a pinch of saffron threads
80g unsalted butter
half a small cinnamon stick
4-5 cardamom pods, crushed
3 whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts, chopped
2 tablespoons dried barberries
1 tablespoon pistachio nuts, chopped, extra, for garnish
1 tablespoon dried barberries, extra, for garnish
Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then soak it in a bowl of salted water for 2-3 hours.
When you are ready to cook, drain the rice in a colander. Place the saffron into a small dish or cup and add a little boiling water, to infuse it. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium to low heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and peppercorns and gently fry them until the aromas are released. Add the drained rice to the butter, and stir well, coating all the grains.
Increase the heat to medium and stir in the pistachios and barberries. Add sufficient water to cover the rice by approximately a centimetre. Place a round of baking paper on the surface of the water over the rice, then cover with the lid of the saucepan. Bring the rice to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer it for around five minutes.
Remove the lid and paper from the rice, then drizzle the saffron-infused water evenly over the rice. Now, replace the paper and lid to the saucepan. Lower the heat and cook the rice for another four or five minutes. When the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork to loosen the grains, then sprinkle with the extra pistachios and barberries as a garnish. Serve. This will feed 4-6.
Tell me dear readers, have you tasted barberries? What's your favourite way of using them?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.