Persian Chicken Kebabs with Saffron and Lemon
Steamed rice with a layer of sweetened barberries served with a saffron roasted chicken. This dish is a real Persian classic and one that most Iranians cherish!
It definitely tops my list of Persian comfort foods, reminding me of my childhood and the big family gatherings my mother would host.
What is Zereshk Polo ba Morgh?
Zereshk polo is Persian steamed rice, layered and/or topped with barberries. It is a sweet and sour dish. The barberries are gently sautéed on a low heat with sugar and bloomed saffron water before being added to the rice.
Where rice dishes are referred to as ‘polo’ (pronounced ‘pawlaw’) it usually indicates that the rice has been mixed with some other ingredient. Our plain white rice, served with our kebabs and khoresh (stews) is referred to as ‘chelow.‘ In the case of this dish, barberries are the additional ingredient.
Barberries are edible red berries which grow in the wild in Europe and West Asia. They are rich in vitamin C and tart in flavour. They are called ‘zereshk’ in Persian and are bought and used in their dried form. You can buy zereshk from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online.
‘Morgh’ means ‘chicken’ in Persian and refers to the accompanying protein served with the rice. It is commonly served with poached saffron chicken or chicken stewed in a saffron sauce and either layered through the rice or on the side. Some Persian restaurants serve it with Jujeh Kabab (grilled chunks of chicken, marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron). Either way, you must be getting a sense that some kind of saffron flavoured chicken complements this sweet and sour rice dish!
My Version of Zereshk Polo ba Morgh
My mother and other members of our family would always poach chicken breast and layer it in the zereshk polo. I appreciate now that, when cooked for too long, this cut of meat can be quite dry. My recipe below uses chicken breast but the cooking method ensures it remains juicy. I generally source chicken from a butcher (online or the old-fashioned method of dropping into a local establishment).
For this recipe I bought chicken breasts with the skin left on and a partial wing (the drumette) in tact. I marinate the chicken overnight, pan fry them and then finish it off in the oven as per the recipe instructions below.
You can also eat this rice with saffron stewed chicken (see picture below). I will post a recipe for this in due course, but for now the recipe below is a homage to the dish I grew up with. The recipe below will also result in the delicious crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot (tahdig). Tahdig adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.
How to Serve Zereshk Polo ba Morgh
Because of the layer of barberries and saffron rice, the key to serving this dish is to spoon the rice out on to a platter (as seen in the pics). The tahdig is usually served separately as a side dish.
Serve this dish with:
- A mix of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and Thai basil).
- Torshi (Persian pickles).
- Maast O’Khiar (Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip).
- Salad Shirazi (Persian chopped cucumber, tomato and onion salad).
Zereshk Polo ba Morgh
For the Saffron Chicken
- 4 Chicken Breasts (with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
- 1 medium Onion (finely sliced)
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
- 2 tbsp olive oil (for the marinade)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
- 1/2 lemon (juice squeezed)
- Salt and Pepper (to season)
- 25 g butter (to cook the chicken)
- 2 tbsp olive oil (to cook the chicken)
For the Rice
- 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (approx. 400g)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp ghee or butter
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
- 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)
For the Barberries
- 5 tbsp barberries (washed)
- 2 tbsp caster sugar (feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Chicken – take chicken breasts and place in large bowl. Add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, olive oil, turmeric, saffron and fresh lemon juice. Mix until evenly coated. Cover and leave in fridge to marinate for minimum 8 hrs (preferably overnight).
- Rice – gently wash rice in cold water until water runs clear. Then place rice with 1 tbsp salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above. Leave to soak for minimum 30 mins (preferably overnight).
- Barberries – take a small saucepan, place it on low heat and add 1 tbsp butter. Once melted, add barberries, sugar and bloomed saffron water and stir for 30 secs. Turn heat off and set aside for later.
Cooking the Rice
- No less than 1 hour before you want to serve this dish, fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres water and 1 tbsp salt. Bring water to boil.
- Drain rice and then add to saucepan. Gently stir rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give it a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture – either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is a soft outer layer but still firm in the centre i.e. al dente. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
- Once parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn heat off and drain in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse further with a little water.
- Place empty saucepan on stove. Add 2 tbsp oil to pan. Add bloomed saffron (1/8 tsp bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp water) to saucepan and mix with oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
- To make tahdig, spoon 1-inch layer of rice into saucepan and gently stir to mix with saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Then pat down flat with spoon. Then layer the rest of the rice, reserving 5 tbsp in a separate bowl, into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in it.
- Take bloomed saffron (1/4 tsp of saffron bloomed in 2 tsp rose water and 2 tbsp water) and add to the bowl with the reserved rice. Mix gently to create a golden coloured rice. Then spoon the golden rice into the saucepan to one side of the white rice. Do not mix it. This saffron coloured rice will be your garnish.
- Pour 2 tbsp cold water evenly over and drizzle 2 tbsp melted ghee or butter over rice. Place glass lid on saucepan and turn heat to highest setting. Once steam starts to rise, lower heat to lowest setting. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace on saucepan.
- Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy layer of tahdig – the longer you steam the rice the thicker the tahdig.
Cooking the Chicken
- Approximately an hour before you want to serve this dish and just before you launch into cooking your rice, remove chicken from fridge and bring up to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C (fan) / 200˚C (conventional) / Gas mark 6.
- Approximately 30 mins before the rice has completed the cooking process, take chicken and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Discard the rest of the marinade including the onion.
- Place a non-stick pan over high heat. Once smoking add a drizzle of olive oil and place chicken breasts skin down in pan. Cook on this side for 5 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crisp.
- Flip over and add 25 grams of butter split into small knobs. Once melted, baste the chicken with the foaming butter for 1 min. Then flip so they are skin side up again.
- Place in oven and cook for 15–20 mins. The flesh should be firm and white (not pink) and the juices should run clear. A temperature probe should read 75˚C when it is safe to eat. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving the Dish
- Once rice has completed its cooking time, turn off heat and remove lid from saucepan. Spoon the saffron-coloured rice out first into a separate bowl and reserve until you are ready to garnish. Spoon the rest of the rice onto a serving dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Then sprinkle the saffron rice over the white rice.
- Reheat your barberries for 30 seconds on low heat, remove from and turn off the heat, and then spoon over the rice.
You will love these moreish wraps filled with roasted chicken in a sticky pomegranate molasses marinade, crispy lettuce, fresh herbs, pickles and moosir mayo.
This is an easy recipe and will be familiar territory for you if you have, as most people have these days, cooked and / or eaten some kind of wrap. If not, it is still an easy recipe to follow and worth getting your hands on the two ingredients you may not have to hand – pomegranate molasses and moosir (Persian shallots).
What is Pomegranate Molasses?
Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grape colour made from reducing pomegranate juice. The juice is obtained from a tart variety of pomegranate. You can pick up pomegranate molasses (rob-e-anar) from most Middle-Eastern food shops, online or even at some local supermarkets.
It is deliciously tart but the addition of maple syrup and freshly squeezed orange juice balances the favours perfectly for this marinade and complements the chicken. As with all marinades, the longer you leave it the better. So if you have time to marinate your chicken overnight (thighs with skin on and bone in preferably) this will allow the chicken to absorb all the delicious flavours.
What is Moosir?
Moosir is a Persian shallot and has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and less spicy. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. They have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. Commonly used in a yoghurt dip called Maast-o-Moosir, this ingredient adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online.
Moosir is bought in its dried form and will need to be rehydrated before use. Soak the moosir in water for 3 to 24 hours. Drain, then rinse in cold water and pat dry. Check the moosir and cut out any stems that remain hard after soaking. I have added the moosir to the mayonnaise for the chicken wraps. Once hydrated, chop the moosir finely and mix with mayonnaise. If you cannot get your hands on this Persian shallot, then you can use garlic. I would recommend steeping the cloves in boiled water before mincing and adding to the mayonnaise to temper the raw garlic.
How to Make Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wraps
- Marinade the chicken thighs. Put the chicken, onion, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, sriracha, maple syrup, orange juice, seasoning and olive oil in a mixing bowl and mix to coat evenly. Cover, place in the fridge and let it marinate for a minimum of 4 hours (preferably overnight).
- Make the Moosir Mayo. Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add your minced moosir and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
- Cook the chicken thighs. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a shallow roasting tin. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken and onions have caramelised and are sticky. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- Prepare the wraps and condiments. Take your tortillas, wrap them in foil and place them in the oven to heat for about 15 mins. Then remove them from the oven and turn off the heat. Scatter the chicken with the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds.
- Build the wrap. Take a wrap and spread a layer of moosir mayo on it. Then add shredded lettuce, sliced chicken (removed from the bone) and caramelised onions, topping with Torshi Soorati (pickled red cabbage and onion) or other pickle, the chopped fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Roll up the wrap and tuck in.
Serve these wraps with wedges – sweet potatoes are a great accompaniment.
Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wraps
For the chicken
- 8 free-range chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
- 1 large red onion (finely sliced)
- 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tbsp sriracha chilli sauce
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- Juice of half an orange
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
For the Moosir Mayo
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (8 tbsp)
- 6 discs of dried moosir (rehydrate the moosir the night before by soaking in water. Rinse then pat dry before mincing and adding to mayo).
- 8 large tortilla wraps
- Crunchy lettuce (Romaine or iceberg - shredded)
- Torshi Soorati or other pickle of your choice
- Fresh coriander, mint and parsley (chopped) and pomegranate seeds (for garnish and sprinkling in the wraps)
- Score each chicken thigh twice with a knife through the skin and into the meat. Then place in a bowl. Add onion, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, sriracha, maple syrup, orange juice, seasoning and olive oil and mix to coat evenly. Cover, place in fridge and let it marinate for a minimum of 4 hours (preferably overnight). About 1 hour before cooking, remove from the fridge and set aside to come up to room temperature.
- Place mayonnaise in a bowl and add minced moosir. Stir and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
- Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
- Transfer chicken and marinade to a shallow roasting tin, then roast for 40-45 minutes, until chicken and onions are caramelised and sticky. Remove from oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Garnish chicken with the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds.
- About 5 minutes before removing your chicken from the oven, take tortillas, wrap them in foil and place them in oven to heat for about 15 mins. Then remove them from oven and turn off heat.
- Build a wrap by spreading a layer of moosir mayo on it, adding shredded lettuce, layering with sliced chicken (removed from the bone) and caramelised onions. Top with Torshi Soorati or other pickle, the chopped fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Roll up the wrap and tuck in.
Slow Roast chicken flavoured with lemon, garlic and herbs, served with a vegetable stew topped with cheesy, herby dumplings. So delicious and comforting, you won’t miss the roast potatoes!
Why the Alternative Roast
I love a classic roast. Being born and raised in the UK, the Sunday roast is of course a recognised and loved tradition in my household. However, I don’t always love the amount of work and washing up involved. So this is my alternative to the traditional Sunday Roast resulting in less chaos in the kitchen!
What is the Alternative Roast
There are two elements to this recipe: (1) the slow roast chicken; and (2) the vegetable stew topped with herb and cheese dumplings.
(1) The Slow Roast Chicken
A whole chicken is placed in a roasting pan with lemons and herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage. The chicken is rubbed with garlic butter and drizzled with olive oil. It is then slow roasted to juicy perfection for 3 hrs in the oven.
(2) The Vegetable Stew Topped with Herb & Cheese Dumplings
Vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, leeks, mushrooms and broccoli) are cooked in one pot. The cooking liquid is a white wine and herb infused gravy. Fluffy dumplings made with parmesan and parsley are made and popped on the top to cook.
How to Serve The Alternative Roast
For presentation purposes, serve in the dishes you have cooked the chicken, stew and dumplings in with a side of cranberry sauce.
For serving individual portions, ladle some of the stew and dumplings onto each person’s dish. Carve the chicken and add. Serve with a dollop of cranberry sauce on the side.
This recipe is comfort food at its best!
Once fully cooled, store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge up to 3 days. Reheat in a medium heated oven or in a microwave.
Other Sunday Comfort Food Recipes
Check out some of my other comforting recipes to serve as Sunday lunch.
- Loobia Polo – Rice with Green Beans & Beef
- Kabab Tabei (Pan-Cooked Kofte Kebabs with Roasted Tomatoes)
- Persian Makaroni with Red Lentil Bolognese Recipe | Kitchn (thekitchn.com)
The Alternative Roast
- 1 large whole chicken (1.8kg - 2kg)
- 1 lemon (halved)
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed - for rubbing on the chicken)
- Fresh mixed herbs roasting herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary - usually sold as a packet of roasting herbs)
- 2 tbsp butter (room tempertaure)
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 400 g new potatoes (washed and halved)
- 1/2 tbsp plain flour
- 2 medium leeks (washed and chopped into 2 inch chunks)
- 4 parsnips (washed, peeled and chopped into 3 inch chunks)
- 300 g Chantenay carrots (washed and halved)
- 250 g mushrooms (cleaned and quartered)
- 8 stalks purple sprouting broccoli
- 225 ml white wine
- 1.5 litre chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper (I sometime use crushed / ground pink peppercorns as an alternative which gives a lovely note to the stew)
- 140 g chilled butter (chopped into small cubes)
- 250 g self-raising flour
- 1 -2 tbsps grated parmesan
- 125 ml water
- Chopped fresh parsley for the dumplings and garnish
Prepare and Roast the Chicken
- Preheat oven to 120°C (fan) / 140°C (conventional) / gas mark 1.
- Place herbs in chicken’s cavity and around the chicken in a roasting tray. Add lemon halves and garlic bulbs to the tray.
- Crush 2 garlic cloves and add to butter. Rub into chicken and drizzle with olive oil. Season and place in oven for 3 hrs. After it has been in the oven for 90 mins, baste with the juices and return to the oven.
- About 15 mins before the end of the cooking time for the roast chicken, increase heat to 200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / gas mark 7 to crisp skin. Once the skin is crispy, to your liking, leave to rest uncovered out of the oven for 15 mins.
Prepare and Cook the Vegetable Stew
- While chicken is in the oven, heat oil in a casserole dish or other dish which can be placed in an oven (approx 3 litres capacity) over medium heat.
- Add potatoes and cook for about 5 mins. Add flour and mix - this will help to thicken the gravy for the vegetable casserole.
- Then add vegetables, with the slowest cooking veg going in first, with around 2 minute intervals between each addition (carrots, parsnips, leeks, mushrooms). Hold back on the broccoli for now.
- Add bay leaves, thyme leaves and garlic and mix. Add wine, if using. Then add the stock and lower the heat and let simmer until vegetables are soft.
- Season to taste. You can put the lid on the casserole once simmering or if you have cooked the casserole early on and intend to reheat prior to adding the dumplings.
Prepare the Dumplings
- Rub butter into flour until it looks like bread crumbs. Add chopped parsley and parmesan. Add water and form into a dough. Divide and make 8 balls.
- While the stew is simmering and about 5 mins before increasing the temperature of the oven to crisp the chicken skin, remove the lid of the casserole dish (you will have no further need for it during the remaining cooking steps). Add broccoli and dumplings and let the stew simmer.
- Place stew in oven with chicken (200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / gas mark 7) 15 minutes before roast chicken has finished cooking. Check in on dumplings half-way through cooking time i.e. when you take the chicken out to rest.
- Leave stew in oven as the chicken is resting for a further 15 mins (overall about 30 mins in the oven) for dumplings to turn golden.
Serve The Alternative Roast
- Serve vegetable stew with roast chicken and a side of cranberry sauce. Sprinkle the chicken and stew with some finely chopped parsley. Ladle vegetable stew and dumplings into pasta-style bowls, place a portion of carved chicken on top with a dollop of cranberry sauce and tuck away.