Zereshk is the Persian name for barberries and that’s what they’ll always be known as to me. As I write this post, I do so bittersweetly. Just as the tartness of these tiny berries are sweetened slightly with sugar, so too are my thoughts as these berries evoke fond memories from my childhood. Barberries bring some nostalgia to me, times cherished with a family who opened their hearts as they welcomed me into their home and their kitchen.
I was in ninth grade, obsessed with barberries and dreaming in farsi. My friend’s mother, a magnificent woman with skin like porcelain and with a demeanor as sweet as honey, introduced me to flavors which settled into my palate as deeply as my friendship with this family. It was the taste of her meals and charm of her kitchen which made sleepovers and suppers such a significant part of my childhood.
If any meal stands out most it’s Zereshk Polow. It’s a simple slow cooked basmati rice pilaf accented with lightly buttered barberries. It’s often served with a slow cooked chicken seasoned with saffron and other warm spices such as cinnamon, allspice, cumin and Tumeric. There’s no flavor which resembles this delectable dish and I’ve been tasting it in my thoughts for decades. The picture below is a traditional method of cooking rice cooked atop potatoes. It is incredible! (I should hit pause to provide a simple explanation of barberries, a plant which produces edible berries, mostly
used in middle eastern cuisine, specifically Iran. They have an intense sour flavor which beg to be slightly sweetened with sugar before serving. They come dried and need to be soaked first before cooking.)
I am thrilled to share with you Kamala, an online Persian grocery store, which I have to thank for bringing barberries into my kitchen and it does so with a storm. When I received a text that my ingredients had arrived, it was as if I had won the lottery. I couldn’t wait to get home and recreate these fond flavors for my family. After burning the first batch of berries, I was a bit worried that my memories would have to be just that, burnt in the past. But after a second try, I managed to make a meal which impressed my family and didn’t disappoint me. I’m thrilled to report that they loved it! Thus I have a new meal for the rotation, one that incorporates my past with my present and closing the distance between the times I treasure from so long ago.
I adored my friend’s mom (and still do) as she has demonstrated the power of food in connecting people and cultures. Then it might have been mostly my taste buds which responded to her cooking, but now I know it was much more than that.
Just as I took liberties with traditional empanadas, I will be concocting new recipes with barberries. Forgive me if I’ll be using these delectable delights in less traditional ways. I’ve created a lentil, basmati rice and Zereshk dish which I’m sharing with you but plan to use these sour berries in muffins, scones, cookies and breads.