This is Zereshk Polo, a distinguished Persian dish.
The popular Zereshk Polo features many of the elements of Persian cooking. Barberries, which are quite tart and bright in color, are layered within the fluffy Basmati rice and served with succulent chicken, or if you prefer with lamb or beef .
It’ll be no surprise that rice dishes are cherished and consumed in Persian cuisine. Rice found its way to Iran from China via the silk road, and took root in the Caspian Sea region, where the climate and landscape are very hospitable to rice production.
Recently I’ve been reading about the wide variety of rice that exists in Iran, and have been reminded of the distinctive characteristics of the rice we encountered when we traveled north to the Caspian Sea. I’ve been quite homesick for those familiar scents and flavors! Here in the US, the Basmati rice that I purchase at the Persian grocery store is the closest I’ve found to the rice I remember eating as a child in Tehran, with its signature flavor and texture.
Name a culture, and you will quickly realize how many dishes start with some member of the onion family. Onions and all of their relatives are cherished and celebrated in Iranian culture. The onion family includes red, white and yellow onions, green onions, garlic, leeks, garlic chives and shallots. And in Iran, you also have Museer, which is an Iranian variety of shallot that most closely resembles elephant garlic, as well as Tarreh, which is a cross between American leeks and green onions. In the US these ingredients are available dried at Persian markets.
Just about every dish in Iran starts with and includes some member of the onion family. It is customary to have fried or caramelized onions prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator to start off the dishes. Still more dishes are finished off with gently fried garlic, mixed with herbs, as a finishing garnish.
This dish celebrates the art of stuffing vegetables, which in Farsi we refer to as Dolmeh. Thinking of stuffed grape leaves? Yup, that; as well as stuffed peppers, eggplants, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and so on!
In this dish, the onions are stuffed with rice, herbs and either beef or lamb, and slowly cooked in a rich broth to create a tenderized and sweet perfection.
A coming together of ingredients in creative ways to improve the overall experience of the dish.
Rice is at the front and center of the Persian table, and there are quite a few techniques for preparing it, from simple steamed rice to more complex rice dishes in which various ingredients are layered into the rice to create a one-pot meal.
Today I found myself wanting to stay close to home and do all kinds of domestic things. After the chores had been knocked off one by one, I was still longing to do something comforting and truly homey.
Naturally, I ended up in the kitchen, and I started to explore some less well-known Persian recipes. I found myself changing them around just a little to suit my craving for comfort food.
The result of this pursuit was this rice pilaf, based on a dish that originated in the Kerman province of Iran, on the eastern side of the country. The recipe I came across doesn’t have any meat or beans in it; as it is traditional with Persian dishes, the protein is often cooked separately and served alongside of the dish. Alternatively, I can totally see this dish accompanied by a couple of sunny side up eggs, with turmeric sprinkled on top, of course!
I opted to make this dish vegetarian by using chickpeas, but I would venture out and say you could also use lamb, beef, chicken, or prawns for the protein. Enjoy exploring while blending cultures and flavors!
Ask an Iranian what their favorite rice dish is, and they’ll likely say it’s Lubia Polo. They’ll then proceed to tell you how they make their version and why it’s the best! Though quite simple in composition, this dish has such richness because of the way the ingredients are cooked and the integration of lots of umami flavors such as tomato paste, turmeric, and cinnamon!
Keeping company with Samin Nosrat (“Salt Fat Acid Heat” on Netflix) and Andy Baraghani (Senior Food Editor, Bon Appetit) on Rachel Belle’s podcast! Rachel Belle has an awesome podcast called “Your Last Meal” in which she interviews people from all walks of life about their favorite food.
On February of 2019, I was honored to be interviewed about Persian rice and the delectable tahdig in an episode that also featured the lovable and brilliant Samin Nosrat and Andy Baraghani.
This is one of many mixed rice dishes in Persian cuisine and I would say my second favorite! Favorite being the barberry rice (ZereshkPolo). This rice dish is typically served with stewed beef or lamb as well as roasted or stewed chicken with the usual Persian spice mixture called advieh. A side of yogurt or fire-roasted pickled eggplants Liteh Bademjan) would complete this dish!
There are a few variations to this dish and the fava bean can be replaced by lima beans and the herbs can be expanded to include parsley, cilantro, fenugreek leaves as well.
Rice, or as we say in Farsi, polow is the main grain consumed in Persian cuisine. Persians have mastered the art of cooking rice and have taken it to a whole different level. Rice is soaked and masterfully steamed to create a light and fluffy texture. The bottom of the pot is also cooked to a crispy perfection by adding ghee or butter and saffron and served upside down to showcase the beautiful and enticing golden crust, tahdig.