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The Hungry Nomad: Recipe: Saffron Chicken with Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polo)- Iranian Cuisine

September 2, 2012

Recipe: Saffron Chicken with Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polo)- Iranian Cuisine

Zereshk polo is one of my mother's favorite dishes which not surprisingly is best made by her. Zereshk or barberry in English is typically used in Persian dishes ranging from Iran to Western Afghanistan. Each bright glowing berry resembles a jewel which is packed with vitamin C. What does it taste like? It is very tart. Your mouth will quench as if you have just had a spoonful of lime juice. It is very powerful. 

Ingredients (Serving 4)

1 Whole chicken
1 Cup barberry
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Cup chopped onion
1 Teaspoon crushed saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water
1 Tablespoon turmeric
2 Cups Basmati rice
2 Tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Cups water


1. In a heated pot, add butter/oil, once the oil is heated, add chopped onions, fry until golden in color then add the whole chicken.
2. Once chicken changes color on the outside (about 5 minutes), add 1 tablespoon of turmeric and 2 cups of water. Cook in medium-high heat with lid covered for 1 hour (or more depending on the size of your chicken).
3. Once ready, add 1 tablespoon of saffron.

1. In the mean time, pick the dried barberries, wash and rinse (before washing make sure to thoroughly go through the barberry looking for small pebbles and thorns)
2. Add butter/oil to a small pan,  once melted add the barberry, 1 tablespoon of liquid saffron and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Set aside. 

Note: If you prefer a tangy flavor reduce the amount of sugar. If you prefer a sweeter dish, add more sugar. Adjust to taste. 


I cook my rice in a traditional Persian rice cooker which creates the burnt rice (tah-deeg) on the bottom. For cooking in a rice cooker:

1. Wash rice and let soak for a few hour. ( I don't like to rinse the rice as most of the vitamins added to rice is washed away in the process)
2. For each 1 cup of rice add twice the amount of water. 
3. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. 
4. Turn the knob to the crispiness level of the burn rice and allow to cook. It is quite a simple process and results in some of the best rice. 
5. Once the boiling water has made its way into the rice grain add 1 tablespoon of the saffron water. 

There are several varieties in presenting this dish. 

1. Mix the rice and barberries together serve with the chicken in its broth.
2. Mix the chicken and barberries together, serve with rice.
3. We serve the rice separately, sprinkle the top with barberries and serve together with the chicken. 

It all works out to taste the same in the end as each plate should have a serving of rice, chicken, barberries and what I love best, the chicken broth. 

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