Im so excited to be sharing this post with you today! Persian Barberry Rice, called Zereshk Polo (Zereshk = barberries and polo = rice) is one of my favourite rice dishes that I grew up eating. A little while ago I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of The Ancestral Table from Russ at The Domestic Man and you can see my review for his amazing book here. Russ and I got to talking via email about doing a collaboration together via our blogs and of course I jumped at the chance! What I love most about Russs work is that he takes traditional foods from around the world and makes them accessible to everyone. You can tell he has a true passion for what he does and Im honoured that I have a chance to work with him!
Since Russ has a passion for traditional cooking and I love to incorporate my Persian heritage into my recipes we thought it would be a fun idea to each prepare one Persian rice dish, I chose to make Persian Barberry Rice and Russ chose to make Sabzi Polo ba Mahi or Herbed Rice with Fish which is another dish I love (you can find his recipe here), so make sure you keep an eye out on Russs blog for his part coming up soon! We picked rice because it has been a staple in Persian cooking for centuries with many of the traditional recipes using rice as their base, and to me personally it is part of how I do paleo. I remember growing up always hearing people speak about making Persian rice as if it were an art form and in a way it is. A lot of care and attention to detail is taken when making Persian rice, especially the polo variety. You see theres actually three ways to make rice in Persian culture with polo being the most time consuming. Theres also kateh and damy which are a little less time consuming, you can read about them here.
The most famous thing that Persian rice is known for? Tahdig/Tahdeeg which literally translates to bottom of the pot and its something that is fought over at the dinner table! As a kid it was the first thing I reached for at the table and there were many fights between my sisters and I on who would get to eat the last piece! So what is it exactly? Tahdig is basically a crispy bottom layer that is left after the rice has cooked, it can be made using a variety of ingredients with bread (Lebanese bread) and potatoes being the most popular. Since going Paleo I dont do the bread base anymore but have made it with things like sweet potato which is delicious. Ive also always loved the white potato version but if you dont want to make it with any of those you can also make it with cabbage leaves or even carrots. Some people even just let a layer of the rice that they are cooking crisp up instead of using bread or vegetables, as I did for this recipe. I should make a confession here and say that I actually did make tahdig for this recipe but I was so hungry by the time it finished cooking that I ate it all before I realised that I should have probably taken a photo of it oops!
Another thing that Persian rice is known for is saffron. In case you didnt know saffron comes from the saffron crocus flower and the majority of the worlds saffron production takes place in Iran. It is the most expensive spice in the world which makes sense when you think about how time consuming it is to harvest and personally I think no kitchen should be without it! Since it is expensive, we Persians have come up with a way to make it last longer by making a saffron tea each time we want to use it in our cooking. What this means is that instead of just adding strands of saffron into our cooking, we grind the saffron, using a Pestle & Mortar and then dilute a small amount of the ground saffron in water before using and store this in the fridge in a glass jar/container to keep fresh.
Ok so lets get back to Barberry rice. You might be wondering what barberries are? Barberries are a very tart fruit, and used in Persian cooking for things like Zereshk Polo or another rice dish called Tahchin or even Herbed Frittata (Kookoo Sabzi). They can be found at Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores or even online and you will always find the dried variety as the fresh are hard to come by. These little dried pieces of fruit are very high in Vitamin C and are full of antioxidants. Usually they are soaked for a period of time before being added into a dish and are also usually sweetened a little to balance their very tart flavour, although if you enjoy the tart flavour there is no need for sweetening.
Now lets get to this recipe! Please note that this recipe needs to be started a few hours before the cooking process begins.
Persian Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polo)
- 1.5 cups Basmati rice, soaked in 3 cups of cold water with 2 Tbsp sea salt for 4 hours or over night.
- 1/2 cup barberries.
- 1/2 tsp crushed saffron, dissolved in 4 Tbsp just boiled water (this is the saffron tea I mentioned above).
- 1 tsp raw honey.
- 2 Tbsp grass-fed butter/ghee, divided.
- 1 cup chicken broth (preferably homemade).*
Soak the barberries in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain the barberries and set aside.
In a small saucepan add in 1 Tbsp grass-fed butter/ghee over medium-low heat, then add in the barberries and mix.
Add 2 Tbsp of the saffron tea and 1 tsp of raw honey to the barberries and stir (you can add more honey if you like if you feel that the barberries are too sweet).
Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large pot with a lid bring 3.5 cups of water to a boil over medium-high heat.
Drain the rice that was soaking and rinse under cold water a couple of times. Add the rice to the boiling water and stir.
Bring the water back to a boil for about 10-15 minutes.Test the rice, at this point the rice should be soft on the outside but still crunchy in the middle.
Remove the pot from the heat and drain the rice. Rinse with cool water a few times to stop the cooking process.
Wash and dry the pot. Place the pot back on the heat and add in 1 Tbsp butter/ghee and 1 Tbsp saffron tea.
Place the rice back into the pot, forming it into a pyramid shape. Poke a few holes in the rice and cook over medium heat until steaming.
Once you can see steam coming out from the pot, pour chicken broth over the rice.
Place a kitchen towel around lid (this helps to trap in the steam) and cover the pot, lower the heat and simmer for about 45-50 minutes.
Turn off the heat, then scoop out some rice about a cup worth into a bowl.
Mix in 1 Tbsp of saffron tea with the rice and set aside.
Remove the rest of the rice onto a large platter. You should have a layer of crispy rice or tahdig at the bottom of the pot.
Remove the tahdig and place on a separate plate (resist the urge to eat it all now!)
Mix most of the barberry mixture you made earlier into the rice on the platter and top with the saffron rice mixture you scooped out.
Place any additional barberry mixture on top.
This dish works best served with chicken, enjoy!
* If you dont have chicken broth on hand just use water, traditionally water is used but I substituted in the chicken stock for its added nutritional benefits.
N.B. If you dont eat rice you can simply make the barberry mixture in the saucepan and stir it through cauliflower rice.