Persian Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polow)
Serves 4 to 6
coarse salt, divided
extra-virgin olive oil, divided
finely ground saffron
finely julienned orange peel
3 1/2 tablespoons
granulated sugar, divided
small onion, sliced thinly
dried barberries soaked in 1/4 cup boiling water
rose water syrup
dried rose petals (optional)
Wash the rice: Place the rice in a large, deep bowl and add enough cold water to cover. Swirl the rice around with your hand until the water is cloudy and then gently pour it off, making sure not to spill out any rice. Repeat 4 to 5 times or until the water is mostly clear.
Add enough water to the rice to cover by 1 inch and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt. Mix once gently and then set aside for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large deep pot, preferably nonstick. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Drain the rice and add it to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the rice for 12 minutes, stirring once or twice. Drain.
Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the same pot in which you boiled the rice. Add 1/4 cup of water. Mix well. Using a large spoon or spatula, spoon the rice, one spoon at a time, into the middle of the pot. Continue until all the rice is used and forms a “pyramid” or mound in the middle of the pot. Cover the pot with a clean kitchen towel or double layer of paper towels and then firmly press the pot lid on top. Fold up the edges of the towel over the top of the lid so it is not near the flame. Cook on the lowest heat setting for 20 to 25 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, prepare the zereshk mixture. Dissolve the saffron in a small bowl with 5 tablespoons of boiling water and set aside to steep.
Place the orange peels and 1 cup of water in a small pot over medium-low heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes and then drain. Repeat this process one more time. Place the orange peels back in the pot and add 1/2 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Simmer over medium heat until the water is nearly evaporated, 6 to 7 minutes; set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the onion and fry until beginning to soften and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the almonds and fry until they begin to lightly brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the orange peels from their syrup, add them to the onion mixture, and stir to combine.
Reduce the heat to low. Drain the barberries and add them to the frying pan. Fry for 1 minute, stirring the whole time. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Fry, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons of the saffron liquid and the rose water. Stir well and simmer until the liquid is almost totally evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside 1 teaspoon for garnish.
Assemble the dish: Remove the lid from the rice pan and, using a fork, gently fluff the rice. Remove 2 tablespoons of rice and add it to the bowl with the remaining saffron liquid. Stir gently to coat and set aside.
Spread 1/3 of the rice onto a platter. Add 1/3 of the barberry mixture on top and gently stir together. Repeat this layering until all the remaining rice and barberry mixture are used up (reserve the rice pan). Do not scrape up the bottom of the rice. Sprinkle the reserved saffron-soaked rice on top, and garnish with some of the rose petals if using.
Remove the tah digh: Dip the bottom of the rice pan into cold water, making sure none gets into the pot itself. Gently run a rubber spatula around the edge of the rice to dislodge it. It should come out in one piece. Turn the tah digh, golden-side up, onto a plate and garnish with the reserved teaspoon of barberry mixture and a few rose petals.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.