Khoresh Zereshk – Barberry and saffron lamb stew

خورش زرشک

What are these bright red, tart, sharp, tangy, mouth puckering berries? Well – they’re Iran’s very own barberries!

When I try to describe these berries to my students, I am always asked what familiar fruit are they most like? “Are they like raisins, or goji berries, or cherries? Oh, I know, are they like cranberries?!”

The answer of course is: none of the above, and there are NO substitutions for these little gems. Barberries grow in the pleasant and mild climate of northeastern Iran near the city of Mashhad, which coincidentally is Iran’s biggest saffron producing area.

Saving me a trip to Mashhad, these days I can purchase my barberries from a local eastern Washington State farmer, Cryus Saffron, who sells his barberries and saffron at Seattle’s famous Pike Place market.

I have been to Mashhad twice, once as a child and then again as a teenager. My first trip was with my mom, aunt and cousins in an overnight train from Tehran – my one and only train ride in Iran!

Barberries and saffron go hand in hand like a well-composed symphony. Sometimes barberries are sweetened to create an invigorating sweet and tart flavor, and sometimes they are used on their own as a souring agent in stews or kuku dishes (egg frittata style dishes).

This stew showcases the prized barberries, which are sweetened with grape molasses and paired with lamb that is cooked in a seasoned tomato sauce until the meat falls off the bone. To make this more of a visual feast, it is then topped with lightly sauteed slivered almonds and pistachios and rose petals.

Khoresht-e zereshk

Barberry and saffron lamb stew
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: barberry, lamb, pistachio, saffron
Servings: 4



  • 4 tablespoons ghee, butter or olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs lamb with bones
  • 1 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups water


  • 1 tablespoon ghee, butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup barberries, soaked in water for 15 minutes and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in 4 tablespoons rosewater
  • 1/2 cup grape molasses, or 1/2 cup sugar plus 4 tablespoons water


  • 1 tablespoon ghee, butter or olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons almonds, slivered
  • 1 tablespoon pistachio, slivered
  • 1 teaspoon rose petals, optional


  • In a dutch oven, saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of ghee over medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Add garlic and continue to saute for 2 additional minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee and sear the lamb on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, tossing and flipping once.
  • Return the sauteed onions to the pan; add salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon; and saute for 2 minutes to coat the lamb and bring out the flavor of the spices.
  • Add the tomato paste and water and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook over low flame for 90 minutes or until the meat is completely tender and easily falls off the bone.
  • In a small frying pan, melt the ghee and lightly saute the barberries for 2-3 minutes over low heat.
  • Add the saffron in rose water and grape molasses and stir for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a small frying pan, melt the ghee and saute the almonds and pistachios over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Serve the stew in serving bowl, topped with the saffron barberries and garnished with sauteed almonds and pistachios and finished off with rose petals.
  • Serve with steamed Persian basmati rice.


Beef or chicken can be substituted for the lamb.

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