~Persian Zereshk Polow~

I truly understand when Ashley Graham said, “the irony is that food gives me a sense of control, even though it makes me totally out of control. Food is something I can choose, order, have delivered. I sit down, eat, and feel really good in the moment. At its essence, food is nourishing. There is truth in that. The trick is understanding and respecting the line where it crosses over into something unhealthy”. So, if you are a foodie, or embrace the love of food, you will understand and respect that line. People often ask me how I stay fit when I feed my love of food so passionately? there is a simple answer, no matter how much of a foodie you are and you understand what healthy portion control is, you will never achieve your ideal goal weight without exercise. Ofcourse, I am certain every foodie is just as a fitness freak as I have become. Nonetheless, I love my cheat days, they are like my food holiday where I don’t feel guilty to indulge.

Okay! coming to the recipe. Let me begin with a little introduction and say that for me personally, the Persian cuisine is one of the most gorgeous cuisines you will come across. If you have never tried Persian cuisine, you’ve missed out on a beautiful food culture. Iran yields a phenomenal variety of culinary delights. The spectrum of food is extremely vast from Persian samosas, falafel, tahdeeg, saffron rice, jewelled rice, stewed pomegranate and walnut chicken curry called fesenjan and kobiddeh kabab and I mean the list is endless. The food culture is extremely fragrant with Exuberantly delightful and light flavours that just tick all the boxes on your palate. 

The geographical position of Iran on the world map is one of the foremost reason of its vast scope of food culture. It was once the hub of the Persian Empire and it neighbours countries part of the Soviet Union as well as Afghanistan, Turkey, Middle-east and it’s geographical significant position on the Silk Route Trade, wherein, trade was carries out between China and the Mediterranean world, introduced Iran to a variety of spices, herbs and fruits owing to the central place on the route. 

Furthermore, back in the 4th century, Alexander, the warrior king of Greece, invaded and conquered the Persian Empire which followed other invasions from the Arabs, Turks, Uzbeks and Mongols, hence enriching and influencing the Persian food culture. The Persians however, were already familiar with various spices and herbs way before these invasions e.g. way before the Western food culture learned about Pomegranates, the Iranians were already brewing stews and chutneys with the fruit. The invasions only accelerated the Persian people to assimilate what the foreigners were bringing into their food culture. Pistachios, almonds, saffron, mint, oranges, pomegranates, cranberries, barberries, walnuts are some of the coveted ingredients that are native to Persian cuisine. Iran, even though is a part of Middle-east but differes widely from the dry terrain lands of other Arab countries, having all four seasons in their full bloom and harvesting on acres of lands turning them into fertile oasis to produce all kinds of fruits, vegetables and dry-fruit. Saffron is Iran’s biggest produce and an integral part of their cuisine. Their maturity in spices and herb blends and passionate harvest created a beautiful sensuous, bright and fruit and herb abundant cuisine.

The Zereshk Polow is one of the finest in the Persia with a beautiful saffron infused Persian Spice Meat served with saffron infused Barberry rice in Tahfeeg style. Tahdeeg is the heart of rice in Iran. It is a cooking method where boiled rice is steamed atop a layer of potatoes in a little oil for 45-50 minutes, giving the bottom of the rice a crusty and extremely crispy golden crust. This scrumptious crust is to die for honestly and is served as a side accompaniment to the whole dish. I instantly fell in love with tahdeeg when I first tried it. I think I was more interested in munching down the bottom crust as to the original recipe itself. This was the moment, my love for the Persian cuisine truly blossomed. The timings are perfect, as the amount of time the meat takes to bake in the oven, is equivalent to the amount of time the tahdeeg needs to be perfectly and gorgeously crusted. So, by the time your meat is done, the rice is ready to be served. 

The saffron is the heart of the dish, so please do not substitute it or leave it out. This little thread of spice is what gives this dish it’s gorgeous sunflower colour, kind of reminds me of Greek Mythology where gods are always on their golden chariots or fields of rapeseed stretching out like neadows of yellow or even a Bee hive, amber and golden, full of glazed honey; and ofcourse, it is saffron that creates an exotic fragrance of floral like to the whole dish. 

Last note, the Barberries are extremely sour and hence are fried with a little sugar after being washed and soaked in water to hydrate again. The sugar turns the softness a tad down making it extremely pleasant to eat. If, however, you can’t find Barberries, opt for Cranberries or if you can’t find that even, substitute with pomegranate seeds. 

The fragrance that stems from the dish is heavenly. I remember I couldn’t hold myself when I was photoshooting this recipe. My house smelled of saffron and Persian spices. Trust me, your sense of smell and taste will both fall in love. The Barberries add intensity to the rice with their sweet and sour flavour and crunchy texture. The whole dish just comes together harmoniously with the caramelized onions, barberries, pistachio and saffron infused rice and meat making friends with the gorgeous golden crust as the trophy to the whole meal. 

This is a meal so enchanting, you will never forget. 

This succulent golden, crown worthy feast, has my heart, all over the plate. 

Serves 4

Prep time – 10 minutes

Cook time – 50-55 minutes. 

Ingredients ~

1. Chicken Leg pieces with skin — 4

Saffron Mix ~

1. Salt  — 1 tsp

2. Sugar`– ½ tsp

3. Saffron  — 1 tsp

4. Milk — ½ cup

5. Butter melted  — 4 tbsp

Iranian Spice Mix~ 

1. Parsley — 1 tsp

2. Turmeric  —  ½ tsp

3. Chilli Pepper — 1 tsp

4. Black pepper  — ½ tsp

5. Garlic clove — 2

6. Cinnamon powder — 1 tsp

7. Nutmeg powder — ½ tsp

8. Cardamom powder  — 1 tsp

9. Cumin powder  — 1 tsp

10. Coriander powder  — 1 tsp

11. Water — 1 cup

Also ~ 

12. Rice — 2 cups

13. Onion — 2

14. Barberries — 1 cup

15. Potatoes  — 4

16. Pistachios — To garnish

17. Oil/Butter — 4 tbsp (divided equally)

18.   Sugar — 1 tbsp 

Method ~ 

1. Prepare the saffron ~

a. In a small bowl, crush together sugar and saffron and add milk. Let it soak and leave aside. 

2. Prepare the chicken ~

a. In a bowl, prepare the Iranian spice mix by dissolving all the spices in water. 

b. Add half of the saffron mix with the spices.

c. Wash the chicken and lay it flat skin side up, in a baking dish.

d. Dice the onions into quarters and add them along with the chicken. 

e. Pour the Iranian spice mix over the chicken and coat it well. Let it marinate for atleast an hour. 

f.     Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

g. Pour half of the oil or dollop of butter on each leg piece to help it cook. 

h. Cover with a foil and bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until the chicken is done. 

i. Uncover the chicken in the last 10 minutes of baking to give the chicken a crisp and crusty exterior. 

3. Prepare the rice ~

a. Wash the rice and boil them with a little salt and oil until they are 95% cooked. 

b. Drain the water and set the rice aside.

c. Peel the potatoes and slice them into 1 inch thick round slices. 

d. In a cooking pot, add 1 tbsp of oil and place the potatoes in a single layer at the bottom. 

e. Pour all the rice over the top and level it out. 

f. Cover the cooking pot with a clean cloth and seal the lid close. 

g. Turn the heat down to low and cook the rice on steam for 50 minutes. 

4. Prepare the Barberries ~

a. Wash and soak the Barberries in water for 5 minutes. 

b. In a frying pan, add a 1 tbsp of butter and add the washed barberries. 

c. Add sugar and fry for only 2-3 minutes. Do not over cook these as they will get stiff. Set aside.

5. Assembling  ~

a. Separate quarter of the rice from the rest of the rice and soak it in the other half of the saffron Milk mix. 

b. In a serving dish, spread the white rice and top it with the soaked saffron rice. 

c. Top with barberries and pistachios. 

d. Serve with the chicken and the potato crust as from the bottom of the cooked rice, as an accompaniment.

Happy Foodieating ~ 

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