Zereshk polo is an upgrade to the Thanksgiving side dish. Here’s how to do it

I have a confession to make – I don’t like Thanksgiving food.

Despite all the effort on the day of the feast, I feel like the result is just kind of…meh. If I have to spend all day in the kitchen, I want to end up with something jaw-dropping, like the Zanzibar-style biryani I learned to make in Oman and got scared of while testing recipes.

This requires frying an elaborate spicy chicken, caramelizing onions, making masala, soaking and cooking rice, then layering it with a drizzle of rose water and fresh mint before doing it. steam for one hour. In total, it takes a good half a day to make, and another half to clean all the pots and pans.

However, it rewards all that effort with a symphony of flavors and textures.

Can’t say the same for the turkey.

For this reason, I have tried to rebel for the past two decades. I started small, using Christian Delouvrier’s rich and simple recipe for Butter Chicken, Soy, and Garlic on a yearling turkey with great success. Then I sullenly refused to do anything but whiskey punch the following year. I tried to co-opt the whole event in favor of an internationally themed potluck the following year. And when I lived abroad, I simply ignored the celebratory meal.

Since moving to Arizona, where much of my family now resides, I have been firmly rejected. Thanksgiving is again a time of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing and everything in between.

I submitted to tradition, doing my duty with only ammunition and minor revisions – chorizo ​​in cornbread stuffing, sun-dried tomatoes on a salad and, almost always, a tart alternative. pumpkin (this year I’m thinking of doing the viral Cream Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin Cookies that have been all over TikTok, although my husband begs me to reconsider because I’m, according to him, “a cook, not a baker” .)

Zereshk polo is a traditional Iranian rice dish made with sour barberries.

I also plan to introduce the polo zereshk, which I hope will be subversive enough to affect a permanent change to our traditional Thanksgiving table.

Fluffy basmati rice is scalloped with bright yellow saffron and bursts of tart red barberry, which aren’t so far off from the cranberries they’ll share a table with, and hopefully serve the same purpose when it’s about adding a bit of lightness to an otherwise heavy, beige meal. Also, polo is often served with grilled chicken called jujeh kebob, which is not too far off from roast turkey in the scheme of things.

The idea was met with everyone’s approval. It won’t try to steal the show like a roast leg of lamb (an idea that was quickly crushed), nor will it compete with the sweet, comforting flavors of other dishes, like a lively, wild herb and a chili nam khao tod salad could. It’s different, but it fits perfectly.

I would like to extrapolate and say something nice about the marriage of my husband’s Persian cultural traditions with mine. But it’s really not that sentimental. It’s just a tasty dish that will go well with my least favorite annual feast. And, what can I say, old habits die hard, so I too hope he usurps a potato or a cranberry in the years to come.

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Recipe: Zereshk polo with tahdig (Persian rice with saffron and barberry)

The key to making crispy tahdig is a slow secondary cooking time as the rice continues to steam and separate.

One of the most coveted parts of any Persian rice dish is the tahdig, the crispy fried rice at the bottom of the pot, which when flipped becomes like the crown of the rice platter. You can skip the prep and just serve basmati drizzled with saffron and rehydrated barberry, but it’s definitely worth the extra step to do so. That said, there is no shortcut (I tried to find one), this dish takes the time it takes, but it’s worth it.

Makes: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • salt
  • saffron threads or saffron water
  • sugar cube (if using saffron threads)
  • olive oil
  • butter (optional)
  • ½ – 1 cup zereshk (also called barberries), find them at the Caspian market, Baiz or most Persian and Arabic markets
Saffron and butter steam with basmati rice.

Preparation

  1. Place two cups of rice in a large bowl with a handful of salt. Add water until the rice is completely submerged. Allow to soak for at least 20 minutes, then wash the rice by swirling it with your hand and draining the starchy water. Replace with clean water, drain and repeat a total of three times or until water is almost clear. Put aside.
  2. If you are using saffron water, skip to the next step. If you’re starting with saffron threads, place a pinch of the threads in a small bowl or cup and use a sugar cube to crush them into a fine powder (save the remaining sugar cube to enjoy in your tea). Add a few tablespoons of boiling water to the cup and steep for about five minutes.
  3. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add the clean rice and cook uncovered for 5-7 minutes or until the rice is half cooked (it should still have some bite). Drain and rinse the rice in cold water to stop the cooking.
  4. Coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with a tight fitting lid with a few tablespoons of olive oil. There should be a good, consistent slick covering the entire pot. Take two cups of cooked basmati and press it firmly into the oiled pan. Sprinkle with a few teaspoons of your saffron water. Put the rest of the rice in the pot, forming a pyramid.
  5. Using a chopstick or the handle of a spoon, poke a few holes in your rice pyramid and drizzle with the remaining saffron water and a pinch of salt. Also add a few knobs of butter if you wish.
  6. Take a thin kitchen towel, wrap the lid and put it tightly on the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat and set a timer for 8 or 9 minutes. Here’s where you need to be careful. Keep sniffing for any signs of burning. If you smell something burning, immediately remove the pan from the heat (if you’re lucky enough to have a gas stove, you can just turn it down to low, but for electric burners that take forever to cool down, it just move it). Once the timer turns off, lower the heat to the lowest setting and continue cooking for another 40 minutes.
  7. While the rice is steaming, place your barberries in a small cup or bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for no more than 5 minutes so that they soften without losing their flavor. Drain and reserve.
  8. When the rice has finished steaming, carefully remove the lid, place a large serving plate on top of the pot, and turn the pot over. The tahdig should release, crowning your rice dish. Finish the dish by decorating it with your softened barberries.

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Recipe: Easy zereshk polo shirt (without tahdig)

If you’re in a hurry, this barberry rice can be made in half an hour.

Makes: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • salt
  • saffron threads or saffron water
  • sugar cube (if using saffron threads)
  • ½ – 1 cup zereshk (also called barberries), find them at the Caspian market, Baiz or most Persian and Arabic markets
  • butter (optional)

Preparation

  1. Place two cups of rice in a large bowl with a handful of salt. Add water until the rice is completely submerged. Allow to soak for at least 20 minutes, then wash the rice by swirling it with your hand and draining the starchy water. Replace with clean water, drain and repeat a total of three times or until water is almost clear. Put aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add clean rice and cook uncovered for 7 to 9 minutes or until rice grains are separated and cooked through. Drain the rice in a colander and place it on a serving platter.
  3. If you are using saffron water, skip to the next step. If you’re starting with saffron threads, place a pinch of the threads in a small bowl or cup and use a sugar cube to crush them into a fine powder (save the remaining sugar cube to enjoy in your tea). Add a few tablespoons of boiling water to the cup and steep for about five minutes.
  4. While the rice cooks, place your barberries in a small cup or bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for no more than 5 minutes so that they soften without losing their flavor. Drain and set aside
  5. Decorate the rice with drizzles of saffron water, softened barberries and salt to taste. Also add a few knobs of butter if you wish.

Contact the Food, Dining & Nightlife Editor at [email protected] Follow her on @hungryfi Twitter and Instagram.