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A Taste of Persia: Zereshk Polo

Welcome foodies! For this post, I’d like to tap in to my Persian heritage and culture, and share one of my favorite dishes. I’m sure if you search for “zeresk polo” on Google or Bing (nevermind, who actually uses Bing?), you’ll find countless recipes and pictures of this dish. The version I’m about to share with you is very old, dating back to my great-great-great grandmother! My grandmother taught me this meal a couple of years ago, and it’s one of my favorite dishes to make. This super simple recipe is a great way to get a taste of Persia, even on a weeknight!

Iranian/Persian cuisine is usually known for its kabobs and other grilled meat. While by all means I’m a huge fan of kabob, it’s almost an injustice that Persian cuisine is known for such a one-note dish. By contrast, some of the dishes I find more interesting in Persian cuisine are the dishes that receive little recognition. Persian cuisine doesn’t use too many fancy or crazy ingredients–it’s the flavor combinations and  the pairing of sweet and savory, that really blow people away. Zereshk polo is absolutely one of those dishes in that in takes an unconventional pairing (barberries and chicken) and creates a delicious, aromatic dish I’m sure you’ll love.

Zereshk Polo (Barberry Rice with Saffron Chicken)

Serves 4


For the Chicken:

1 small onion, diced

8 chicken legs, skin and excess fat removed

1 tsp tumeric

1/4 tsp saffron, steeped in 2 Tbsp hot water

Water to coat

Salt and pepper to taste


For the Zereshk:

1 tbsp oil

1 cup barberries, rinsed and soaked for 1 hour

1 cup carrots, shredded

1/2 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped finely

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/4 tsp saffron, stepped in 2 tbsp hot water



1. Saute the diced onion in the oil for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the chicken. Pan fry for 3-4 minutes. Add turmeric, saffron, and just enough water to form a braise (about 3/4 to 1 cup).

2. Let the chicken simmer on medium low heat until cooked. Usually, this takes 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. It’s best to cook the chicken slowly on a low heat, that way you’ll have a much more tender piece of meat.

3. In a separate pan, saute the carrot in the oil for 7-10 minutes or until the carrots have softened. Add sugar, drained barberries, pistachios, and saffron. Continue to saute on medium heat until carrots are softened and flavors are combined, about 20-25 minutes. Keep adding 1/2 cup of water as needed if the mixture gets dry and begins to stick to the pan.

4. Serve chicken over rice, preferably Basmati or brown.

Zereshk polo

I realize that some of these ingredients are hard to find at a local grocery store. If you have access to a Persian or Middle Eastern grocery store, great! You’ll easily be able to find barberries, sliced pistachios, and saffron. If you’re afraid that saffron will break the bank (it’s the most expensive spice in the world, costing more ounce per ounce than gold!), don’t worry about it. Omitting it won’t change the taste or look of the dish too much. Happy eats everyone!

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