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Zereshk Polo ba Morgh (Barberry Rice & Saffron Chicken)

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

Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: family recipes, chicken, saffron
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

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

Instructions

Preparation

  • 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.
  • Serve the rice with the chicken, tahdig, a side of fresh herbs and / or Salad Shirazi and / or Maast O'Khiar and/or torshi.

 

A Baluchi-Style Breakfast (Chickpea Curry and Parathas)

This chickpea curry served with parathas and fried eggs is a great addition to your weekend brunch catalogue of recipes. Make this recipe the night before and just re-heat if you want a lie-in and a lazy morning.

Sistan and Baluchestan

My journey to discover more about the cuisine of Iran has led me to Sistan and Baluchestan in the South-East of Iran. It is the second largest province of the 31 provinces of Iran, after Kerman Province.

The province borders Pakistan and Afghanistan and has a population of 2.5 million, which the majority are Baloch. They mainly inhabit mountainous terrains which has allowed them to maintain a distinct cultural identity and resist domination by neighbouring rulers. Approximately 20-25% of the worldwide Baloch population live in Iran. The majority of the Baloch population reside in Pakistan, and a significant number (estimated at 600,000) reside in southern Afghanistan. Baluchestan of Iran has been regarded as the most underdeveloped, desolate, and poorest region of the country.

A Spicier Cuisine

The food from the Southern Provinces of Iran tends to be spicier. In light of its bordering countries, Sistan and Baluchistan has a cuisine similar to those countries. Street food vendors and restaurants offer a range of dishes from chickpea curry served with fried eggs and parathas for breakfast; to kebabs rubbed with spices referred to as ‘Baluchi Masala’ for dinner. Restaurants in the area also serve karahi (curry-style dishes) and biryanis, whilst also offering an array of traditional Persian dishes.

The recipe below seeks to re-create the breakfast dish of chickpea curry with parathas and fried eggs eaten in the hustle and bustle of Chabahar. The city is situated on the Makran Coast of the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. It is officially designated as a “Free Trade and Industrial Zone.” The name of the city translated means Four Springs as the climate feels like spring all year round.

What are Parathas?

Parathas are a type of flatbread commonly eaten in South Asian cuisine. The ingredients are simply plain flour, water, some oil and / or ghee and salt. Gently knead and rest the dough for 30 mins before cooking in a skillet or frying pan. Then butter before serving.

If you don’t want to make the paratha, by all means pop into your local Asian supermarket and purchase some or any other flatbread such as chapatis or roti. I am not a seasoned paratha maker but if you follow the recipe and steps below, the resulting breads are soft, flaky and perfect for dipping into the yolk of your fried egg and scooping up the chickpea curry.

Tips for Making this Dish

You may have eaten Channa Masala, Channay or Chole before as this curry is known in the Indian subcontinent. As with all aromatic food, the longer you cook/leave it the more intense the flavours. I often prepare the chickpea curry the night before and let it simmer for over an hour to intensify the flavours.

I also make the parathas the night before and just heat them up in a dry frying pan or skillet the next morning so all I am cooking are the eggs on the day we want to eat this meal.

If you are making this dish all in one go, then make the chickpea curry first. While the tomato sauce is simmering (before you add the chickpeas), prepare the paratha dough. Then, after you add the chickpeas to the sauce, just let the curry simmer gently as you roll out and cook the parathas. Fry the eggs as the final stage.

How to Serve this Dish

Serve this dish with fresh herbs such as coriander, mint, Thai basil and tarragon alongside the parathas, curry and fried eggs. My family and I often eat this breakfast/brunch dish washed down with a homemade mango lassie or Persian tea.

Other Breakfast Inspiration

Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day so I invest as much time in it as I would an evening meal. Check out my other breakfast recipes to enjoy for weekend family brunches.


 A Baluchi-Style Breakfast

Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine: Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the chickpea curry

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion (finely sliced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • Thumb-size piece fresh ginger (grated)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400 g tins of chickpeas (drained)
  • 200 mls water
  • Fresh lime juice (half a lime)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh coriander (to garnish)

For parathas

  • 3 cups plain flour (UK standard measuring cup plus extra to sprinkle on parathas)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Water (as required to form a sticky dough in the region of 1.5 to 2 cups)
  • Oil or ghee to brush and cook the parathas 

For the eggs

  • 6 large free-range eggs
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

For the chickpea curry

  • Take a saucepan and place it on medium-high heat. Add 2 tbsp oil.
  • Add onion and cook until it softens and turns golden. Then add garlic and ginger and stir.
  • Once aroma of garlic and ginger starts to permeate, add cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala and stir. Allow mixture to cook with spices for about 2 mins.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and once bubbling lower the heat to low- medium to allow the mixture to simmer. Simmer for 20 to 30 mins.
  • Then add chickpeas, water, lime juice, salt and pepper and stir. Leave to simmer for 20 mins minimum until you are ready to serve. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander before serving.

For the parathas

  • Add flour, oil, salt, to a large mixing bowl and mix until incorporated and only tiny lumps remain. Initially add about 1 cup water and mix into flour mixture. Then add more water in small increments to form a dough (I usually require 1.5 to 2 cups of water in total to make a dough). Knead dough for about 5 mins and then leave to rest for 30 mins.
  • After resting time, the texture should be soft and dough lighter. Take the dough and split into 6 equal amounts and roll into a ball.
  • Sprinkle some flour onto work surface. Take one ball of dough and roll to approximately 10cm in diameter with a rolling pin. Brush with a little oil / ghee, sprinkle with a little flour and then fold the dough like a fan. Take one end and roll it along the edge of the dough until it forms back into a ball (like a Catherine wheel). Leave to rest in fridge while you repeat the process with the other balls of dough. This will create the layered, flaky texture for the final cooked parathas.
  • After preparing the ‘Catherine wheel’ dough balls, take a frying pan or skillet and place it on high heat. Drizzle some oil / ghee into pan.
  • Take dough balls out of fridge. Take the first dough ball and roll it until it is approximately 1/2cm thick. Then cook it in the hot pan for 3 minutes on each side, or until nicely charred. While cooking, brush with a little bit more oil / ghee on each side. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  • Once the parathas are cooked, turn off the heat and leave cooked parathas to one side until you are ready to serve.

For the eggs

  • Add oil to frying pan / skillet and place on medium-high heat.
  • Crack eggs into pan, cover with a tight lid and cook for 3 mins or until white is set.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve alongside chickpea curry and parathas.

The Alternative Roast (Roast Chicken, Veg Stew & Dumplings)

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!

Storing Leftovers

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.


The Alternative Roast

Slow Roast Chicken served with a Vegetable Stew and Dumplings
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 15 mins
Total Time3 hrs 45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: British
Keyword: family recipes, roast dinner
Servings: 4 (to 6)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Roast Chicken

  • 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

Vegetable Casserole

  • 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)

Dumplings

  • 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

Instructions

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.