Albaloo Polo has it all: sweet, sour, salt, carbohydrates, protein, soft, crispy, and bright, uplifting colors – all packed into one surprisingly humble dish. It is a delicious and flavorful meal and a true gastronomic experience that satisfies all the different taste buds in your palate. Albaloo is the Farsi word for Morello cherries, which with their distinctive dark red skins and intense flavor, are highly prized in Persian culture and cuisine.
When in season, fresh cherries are served heaped on platters at gatherings, and are offered to guests as part of an elaborate Mehmoon Navazi: the practice of hospitality with a Persian twist, offering platefuls of fruits, nuts, pastries, and tea with endearing and sometimes over the top kindness and generosity.
Albaloo is also cooked and integrated into dishes in a variety of ways. The juice is sweetened and turned into a syrup before being generously drizzled over Falloudeh, a Persian starchy cold noodle dessert. The syrup is also mixed with rosewater and water and poured over ice as a thirst-quenching Sharbat on hot summer days. The love of cherries does not stop here: the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say: sour cherry jam (Moraba Albaloo) is a favorite among Iranians.
Albaloo Polo feels like an indulgence! I feel a bit mischievous eating it, as though I am having dessert for lunch or dinner. Sour cherries are sweetened with sugar and further enhanced with golden saffron and a touch of butter. They are then cooked the traditional Persian way, layered inside of rice. Albaloo Polo can be served with stewed beef, roasted chicken, or in this case, meatballs called Ghel Gheli, or in our home Kal-leh Gonjishki. These Farsi terms refer to beautifully delicate, tiny meatballs the size of hazelnuts! They are cooked until crispy and then tossed with the sour cherry syrup and placed decoratively on the serving platter with the rice.
Most Iranians fall on one or the other side of the fence regarding how they prefer their sour cherries. There are those that prefer them tart and sour with little or no added sugar, while others like the addition of sugar to create a signature flavor that’s both tart and sweet.
I made mine with about 1/2 cup of sugar, which I would say is smack in the middle, a bit tart, and a bit sweet. Perhaps that’s a quality of being a Libra!
- 3 cups sour cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted
- 1/2 cup sugar, adjust up or down to your taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cups rice, soaked for 1 hour and rinsed
- 8 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt, for boiling the rice and will be rinsed out
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1/8 teaspoon ground saffron, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
Ghel Gheli (meatballs)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 medium onion, grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, ground
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon pistachios, slivered
- 1 tablespoon almonds, slivered
- 1 teaspoon rose petals, optional
- Place the sour cherries in a saucepan, add sugar and cook on medium-low heat uncovered for 15 minutes. Juices from the cherries combined with sugar will create a luscious cherry syrup that will get used later with the meatballs.
- Strain the cherries, and put the sauce aside.
- Return the cherries into the saucepan, add butter and saffron water and gently mix over low heat for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
- In a large covered pot, bring 8 cups water and salt to a boil.
- Add the rinsed rice and boil on high heat uncovered for about 5-8 minutes, or until the rice has slightly softened. Drain the rice in a colander, rinse and set aside.
- Add the oil to a non-stick pot.
- In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of the lightly cooked rice with 2 tablespoons of saffron-water mixture, gently mix and spread evenly in the bottom of the pot. This will be the crispy rice referred to as Tahdig.
- Begin by layering a 1/3 of the partially cooked rice and a 1/3 of sour cherries into the pot and repeat until all of the rice and cherries have been layered in the pot.
- Wrap the lid with a clean towel and place on top of the pot. Allow the rice to steam over a medium-low to medium heat for about 45 minutes.
Ghel Gheli (meatballs)
- Place all the ingredients with the exception of the oil in a medium sized bowl and proceed to mix all the ingredients. Take some time to mix everything well, so that the meat mixture feels like a smooth paste.
- Take the necessary time to create the Ghel Gheli by taking a small amount of the meat paste and rolling it between the palms of your hands. These meatballs are typically the size of a hazelnut.
- Once all the meatballs have been formed, heat a large frying pan with oil and saute the meatballs until they are fully cooked and crispy. Typically about 10 minutes.
- Add the reserved cherry syrup to the pan and swirl around for the syrup to be better mixed and coating the meatballs. Ideally this step would happen right before serving.
- Remove the rice from the pan and place on a serving platter. Arrange the meatballs on the serving platter and garnish with pistachios, almonds and rose petals.
- Serve Albaloo Polo with a side of yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs.