Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2021

© Jonathan Lovekin

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Basmati rice with barberries and pistachio

This dish is inspired by shirin polo, a celebration rice dish of the Iranian Jewish community. The original includes candied orange peel, sour cherries, cranberries and almonds. We use barberries, an Iranian mainstay, available at Iranian and some Middle Eastern groceries. You could substitute currants soaked in a little lemon juice.

2 tbsp. (30 g) unsalted butter
2 c. (500 ml) basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 c. (500 ml) boiling water
1 tsp. (5 ml) saffron threads, soaked in 3 tbsp. (45 ml) boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 c. (60 ml) dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar
1/2 c. (125 ml) fresh dill, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. (80 ml) fresh chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. (80 ml) fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. (125 ml) slivered or crushed unsalted pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground white pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid and let cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t uncover; the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the pan from the heat — all the water will have been absorbed by the rice — and pour the saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority white. Cover immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t overmix; you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

Variations: Add cranberries, sliced dried apricots or even chopped dates. This would be in line with the sensibilities of Iraqi, Iranian and North African Jews who love mixing sweet with savoury. Or, leave out the barberries and pistachios and add skinned, cooked fava beans.

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