Persian-Inspired Pistachio Pilaf (Christmas Menu Part II)

A lovely, simple Persian-inspired side dish to grace your holiday table, Persian-Inspired Pistachio Pilaf features tart zereshk (barberries), pistachios, and exotic spices in a greatly simplified version of an authentic Persian rice dish!

Persian-Inspired Pistachio Pilaf with turkey, salad, and a bottle of wine.

Don’t think of rice as a side dish around here, it can be the main event.

~~ Anthony Bourdain on Persian rice

As I mentioned in my December 15 post Za’atar and Pomegranate Molasses Roasted Duck, I looked to the flavors of Persia for inspiration in planning my Christmas menu this year. Rice is elevated to a place of honor in this ancient cuisine. Zereshk and Pistachio Pilaf is not the recipe handed down from the Maadar-Bozorg (grandmother). Rather, it is a rice dish which incorporates lovely Persian flavors. Traditional rice dishes such as tah-dig and Javaher Polow require soaking and rinsing the rice prior to even starting the dish. You have to set aside 1-2 hours to prepare these dishes. They’re lovely, and totally worth the effort.  🙂 I’ve done it! However…

Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.

~~ Carl Sandburg

I want to enjoy the flavors of Persia. I don’t always have time to cook a traditional, authentic Persian rice dish. I came across zereshk in my local (amazing) HEB market. I had no idea when I would use them, but they were on the shelf, and I had to have them!

Persian-Inspired Pistachio Pilaf - a close up of the pilaf in a white bowl.

What better time than Christmas to incorporate these lovely, bright, tart berries? I love texture and contrast in a dish, and pistachios seemed the perfect pairing. I must emphasize the importance of good quality rice. I use basmati… Jasmine is also nice. Use good rice; it does make a difference. Of course this Persian-inspired rice cries out for saffron, and the addition of cinnamon and turmeric add depth to the dish.

So, vertically sliced onions get a bit of caramelization, and the spices get fried in a bit of olive oil. The juice of an orange plus the chicken broth should equal 2 times the amount of rice (so 2 cups). The saffron goes in with the broth, and the coarsely chopped pistachios get added along with the rehydrated zereshk when the rice is completely cooked.

I guess you might say Zereshk and Pistachio Pilaf is “cheater” polow. There is no tah-dig, but there is a ton of Persian flavor in this gorgeous pot of rice. It is definitely worthy of your holiday table!

A Christmas Menu 2015


Yield: 4 servings

Zereshk and Pistachio Pilaf

Persian-Inspired Pistachio Pilaf - a close up of the pilaf in a white bowl.

Zereshk and Pistachio Pilaf brings together bright, tart zereshk (barberries), pistachios, and saffron in a lovely rice dish with Persian flavors without the complicated cooking methods. Serve it with Za'atar and Pomegranate Molasses Roasted Duck or simple za'atar rubbed grilled chicken for an exotic flavor sensation!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes


  • 1/4 cup zereshk (barberries), soaked in hot water*
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, a drizzle
  • 1/2 onion, vertically sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups juice of one mandarin or small orange plus chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon +/- saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • a few grinds of pepper
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, very coarsely chopped


  1. Soak the zereshk in hot water while the rice is cooking.
  2. To a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the vertically sliced onion. Cook (stirring occasionally) for 4-5 minutes until the onion begins to show some color. Add the garlic and rice. Stir an additional 2-3 minutes until the rice is very fragrant. Do NOT burn the garlic!
  3. Squeeze the juice from the orange into a 2 cup measure. Add enough chicken broth/stock to make 2 cups total liquid. Add to the pot, along with the saffron, salt, cinnamon, sumac, turmeric, and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover.
  4. Simmer rice 18 to 20 minutes until tender.
  5. Just before the rice is cooked, drain the zereshk. When the rice is cooked, add the zereshk and the pistachios. Fluff with a fork. Enjoy!


Dried cranberries or currants make a pretty nice substitute for the zereshk. I've also made this rice with dried sour cherries.

If you don't care for pistachios (how can that be) or just don't want to buy them, slivered almonds are a decent substitute.

As I mentioned in the last post, we're not counting calories and macro nutrients for the holidays... 🙂

Macronutrients are an approximation only from

Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 336Total Fat: 9gCarbohydrates: 57gProtein: 10g

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Za'atar and Pomegranate Molasses Roasted Duck

Zereshk and Pistachio Pilaf - Persian flavors sing in this delicious perhaps not authentic rice dish!

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    1. Thanks Gloria! If you can’t find zereshk (I get them at a regular market but a middle eastern market will have them), craisins or currants are a great substitution 🙂