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Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries)

The comforting taste of Zereshk Polo – this vibrant Iranian dish always evokes a rush of nostalgia with each spoonful. I was first introduced to this delightful delicacy by my beloved grandmother during my childhood visits to her home in Karaj, Iran. Her warm kitchen was always imbued with the tantalizing aroma of this simple yet sophisticated dish that was undoubtedly the highlight of my visits.

Zereshk Polo, for those unfamiliar with Iranian cuisine, is a harmonious blend of fluffy, aromatic basmati rice and tart barberries. These tiny, ruby-red jewels, renowned for their zesty flavor, would sizzle and pop in my grandmother’s seasoned pan, their tangy sweetness perfectly balancing the fragrant rice.

This dish, in its simplicity, encompasses all the beauty of Persian cooking – using a few key ingredients to create a symphony of flavours and textures. The beautifully tender rice grains, the crunch of the golden ‘tahdig’ (the crispy crust at the bottom of the pot), and the sour pop of barberries create a dish that’s as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eyes.

There’s an unspoken comfort in this family recipe that has been passed down through generations. It carries the love of my grandmother’s kitchen, the familiarity of family gatherings, and a piece of my Iranian heritage. Each time I prepare Zereshk Polo, I’m transported back to those joyful days in Iran, the memory of my grandmother’s welcoming smile and the first mouthful of her delicious Zereshk Polo.

Whether you’re exploring Iranian cuisine for the first time or longing for a taste of nostalgia, I invite you to try this cherished recipe from my childhood. Join me in celebrating the timeless tradition of Iranian cooking, and let’s delight in the remarkable taste of Zereshk Polo together.

Basic Ingredients for Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries)


Barberries: These little red jewels are the heart and soul of Zereshk Polo. Their tart flavour gives the dish a distinctive taste, and their vibrant colour makes it visually appealing.

Butter: Butter adds a rich, creamy flavour to the dish. It is used both for cooking the rice and for sautéing the barberries, enhancing the overall taste of the dish.

Sugar: Sugar is used to balance the tartness of the barberries, providing a sweet contrast that makes the dish more complex and satisfying.

Saffron: This precious spice gives the rice a beautiful golden colour and imparts a luxurious, slightly earthy flavour that’s characteristic of many Persian dishes.

Rice: Typically, long-grain Basmati rice is used because of its fragrant aroma and fluffy texture when cooked.

Salt: Salt is crucial for bringing out the flavours of the dish. It’s used in the rice cooking process and also to season the barberries.

Rose Water: A common ingredient in the Persian kitchen, rose water adds a floral note that complements the tartness of the barberries and the richness of the saffron.

Potato: This is an optional ingredient that’s used to create a crispy bottom layer of the rice known as ‘Tahdig’, a beloved element in Persian cuisine.

alternative ingredients

  • Substitute barberries with dried cranberries if unavailable. Cranberries have similar tartness, albeit slightly sweeter.
  • For a vegan alternative, swap butter with olive oil or vegan butter.
  • If saffron is not accessible, use turmeric to impart a similar golden hue to the rice, though it will have a distinct flavor.

Preparation Tips for Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries)

  • Rinse the rice thoroughly to remove excess starch, which can make the rice clumpy.
  • Be careful not to overcook the rice during the initial boiling. It should be parboiled, meaning it’s slightly undercooked and will finish cooking later in the process.
  • Use a towel under the lid to absorb excess moisture, allowing the rice to steam and become fluffy.

Serving Tips for Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries)

  • Fluff the rice gently with a fork before serving to avoid breaking the grains.
  • Serve the dish hot, garnished with the barberries mixture on top.
  • Serve with Saffron Chicken and Salad Shirazi on the side

storage tips

  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.
  • Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop, adding a bit of water if necessary to prevent the rice from drying out.
  • This dish is not ideal for freezing, as the texture of the rice can become mushy when thawed and reheated.

Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Soaking Time: (Ideally Overnight): 1 hour


  • 1 cup barberries
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of ground saffron
  • 2 cups rice
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp rose water
  • Potato, optional


  • Begin by washing and rinsing the basmati rice under cold water until it runs clear. Soak the cleaned rice in 6 cups of cold water mixed with 6 tablespoons of salt. Allow this to sit for a few hours before draining. Be careful not to handle the rice too much during this process; Basmati rice is delicate and can break easily.
  • Using a large non-stick pot, fill the pot 2/3 full with water and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Bring this mixture to a boil. Now, add the drained rice to the boiling water and allow it to cook for approximately 5-7 minutes. The rice kernels should be floating to the surface of the water. Aim for the rice to be parboiled or al dente, with a soft exterior and firm centre. Once achieved, drain and rinse the rice with cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Clean the pot and return it to the stove. Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and vegetable oil in the pot and allow it to melt. If using, arrange potato slices in a single circular layer at the bottom of the pot and fry on high heat for a few minutes.
  • Place the drained rice back into the pot with the potatoes. Mix together half a cup of hot water, 3 tablespoons of butter, and a pinch of saffron in a small cup, then drizzle this mixture evenly over the rice. Once steam starts to rise from the pot, cover the pot with a towel-wrapped lid, and turn the heat down to low. The towel will absorb any excess condensation, aiding in the rice’s fluffiness. Allow the rice to cook for about 45–50 minutes.
  • While the rice is cooking, soak the barberries for 20 to 30 minutes before draining. Heat some butter and sugar in a small pan, then add the drained barberries and stir well. Mix in the rose water to add a layer of floral aroma to the barberries.
  • Once the rice is fully cooked, remove the pot from the heat. Spoon the sautéed barberries over the top of the rice before serving. Enjoy this flavorful dish from my childhood.

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