Khoresh Zereshk – Barberry and saffron lamb stew

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

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.

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 on 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).


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Khoresht-e zereshk

Barberry and saffron lamb stew
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Iranian, Persian
Servings 4



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


  • 1 tablespoon ghee, butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup barberries, soaked in water for 15 minutes and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, ground and mixed with 4 tablespoons water
  • 4-6 tablespoons grape molasses, or 4 tablespoons sugar plus 2 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 4 tablespoons of ghee over medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly golden.
  • Add garlic, cumin, turmeric, and ground pepper, and saute for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add the lamb to the pan and toss to coat the lamb with the spices and onion. Saute over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and saute for 2 additional minutes.
  • Add water and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook over low flame for 60 minutes.
  • Add salt and cinnamon and cook for an additional 15-30 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 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.
Keyword barberry, lamb, pistachio, saffron
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Looks magnificent dish.

  2. Zereshk makes everything better!

  3. Golnar Bakhtiar says:

    This sounds fantastic

    1. Thank you, Golnar! Most of us use barberries just for Zereshk Polo, and I like that this stew offers other options around using barberries.

  4. Erin says:

    Hello! Thank you for being my go-to website for my persian husband and I.
    I noticed this recipe calls for cumin seeds but I do not see them in the instructions. Should they be added with the turmeric and black pepper?

    1. Hi Erin, yes, good catch! I updated the recipe to include the addition of the cumin seeds along with turmeric and pepper.

      And I’m thrilled to know you have been enjoying my recipes! Thank you, and happy cooking!

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