Barberries, Berberis or Zereshk in Persian are a delightful, useful, and once you use it, indispensable ingredient in your pantry. It’s one of those ingredients like Sumac and Sundried Tomato Paste that makes you a believer from the first use and have you going, “How did I ever survive without it?”
There are many different types of barberries, depending on which part of the world they grow. Some of the shrubs are grown for their ornamental value, with their yellow coloured leaves, red or black berries.
The edible type is called Berberis Vulgaris and pretty much grows wild in Asia and Europe.
Barberries are a crucial part of any Persian kitchen, making themselves known by imparting not only a gorgeous burst of colour but also a marked tart and tangy flavour.
So, how do you use Zereshk? It’s a simple matter of soaking them in tepid water for about 10 minutes, squeeze dry and use whole or chopped up.
I use them in many of my dishes, Middle Eastern or otherwise and they are wonderful in all manner of recipes. Barberries are a key ingredient in many Persian rice dishes, one of the most famous of these is Morasa Polow or Jewelled Rice (click for recipe). A centrepiece at Persian weddings, Morasa Polow is a glorious feast for the eyes and the palate with the twinkling of the “gems”and multi layered flavours. The sourness of the barberries are a reminder that married life isn’t always going to be a bed of roses!
Now, zereshk is not only for rice or cous cous of course; stews are another way that they are commonly used in. They also give a wonderful dimension to kebabs, burgers, homemade sausages and stuffing. Also fabulous in the salads you’ll find on the Middle Eastern page.
Substitute: Dried Sour Cherries or Cranberries.
So, there you have it, another staple in our global kitchen and hopefully, yours too, soon, if not already. Here in the UK, I purchase them online although when I’m in London and have access to Middle Eastern stores, I do stock up a little bit! I hope you get your hands on some and start experimenting, I would love to hear from you, just drop me a line!
Catch you all later,