By Heidi Noroozy
The holiday season is upon us. I know this because Christmas lights, Santa Claus figures, and candy canes are winking at me from store-front displays all over town. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. But the turkey feast is just a few days away, so naturally my thoughts turn to food.
Thanksgiving is probably our most quintessentially American holiday. Even recent immigrants will set aside the familiar flavors of the old country and serve a roast turkey with all the traditional trimmings. One of the best Thanksgiving meals I ever tasted was prepared by my husband’s Iranian cousins in Los Angeles. You can read all about it here.
I like to mix things up culturally, so my holiday feast has Persian flavors along with the American ones. There will be some sort of roast fowl on the table this coming Thursday, but it won’t take center stage. That exalted position will be occupied by a big platter of javaher polo, a Persian rice dish that looks like the cook scattered brilliant gemstones over a mound of snow.
Javaher polo is traditionally served at weddings, and for good reason. It is a joyful dish that offers a celebratory blend of colors, flavors, and textures. White rice sparkles with pistachios, orange peel, and ruby-toned barberries (zereshk), finished off with a splash of golden saffron. This dish is good hot or cold, paired with chicken kebabs or Thanksgiving turkey, served on its own for a quick snack or with a spoonful of yogurt on the side.
Like the holiday meal itself, I’ve messed with the traditional recipe for this dish by replacing some of the traditional orange peel with tangerine, which makes the rice even more fragrant. And I’ve added a secret ingredient. I’ll share it if you promise not to tell.
Come closer, and let me whisper it in your ear…
Not too much. Just a drop or two. You don’t want your rice to smell like a summer garden. It’s November, after all.
So if you’d like to add a bit of Persian flair to your holiday meal this year, hold the mashed potatoes and serve a platter of javaher polo. Here’s the recipe:
1 orange (peel only)
2 tangerines (peel only)
2 medium-sized carrots, julienned
½ cup sliced pistachios
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup zereshk (barberries), available in Middle Eastern markets*
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 3-4 tablespoons of hot water
Splash of rosewater (optional)
Splash of rosewater (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
For the rice:
2 ½ cups Basmati rice
8 cups water
3 tablespoons oil
¼ teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1. Rinse the rice in several changes of water. Cover with more water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and soak for at least one hour.
2. Cover the barberries with cold water in a bowl and let stand for at least 20 minutes so any grit will sink to the bottom.
3. Quarter and then peel the oranges and tangerines. Remove the white part with a sharp knife and discard. Cut the remaining peel crosswise into strips. Cover with cold water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse in cold water.
4. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the carrots and sauté until they start to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Add the citrus peel and nuts and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.
5. Scoop the barberries out of the water, making sure that the grit remains at the bottom of the bowl, and add to the carrot/orange peel/nut mixture along with the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the saffron water, bring to a simmer, cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, adding more water if the mixture gets too dry.
6. Bring the 8 cups of water to a boil in a large non-stick pot and add the rice. Cook until al dente (firm to the teeth, but no longer hard). Drain and rinse with cool water.
7 Heat the oil in the same pot and layer the rice with the carrot/orange peel mixture in a pyramid shape, starting and ending with rice. Poke some holes in the top to let the steam escape and sprinkle 1/4 cup of warm water over the top. Cover with a tight-fitting lid wrapped in a clean dish towel, lower the heat and cook for 40-50 minutes. Uncover and pour the saffron water over the top. Cover again and cook for another 5-10 minutes
Noosh-e jaan! Bon appetit!
* Dried cranberries or cherries can be substituted for the barberries, but you’ll need to use less sugar. Barberries are very sour.