Zereshk Pilaf (or Pulao)

Zereshk Pilaf (or Pulao)

Zereshk Pilaf – This fragrant rice dish cooked generally with dried, wild, red berries (‘Zereshk’ or ‘Zeresk’) and zafran (saffron) will take you to Persia where it was believed to have originated. Zereshk Pilaf is more popular in India as  ‘Barberry Pilaf’ or simply ‘Berry Pulao’ since it was introduced by the Zoroastrians who had fled Persia to escape persecution.

Among the different forms of Biriyani and Pulao (or Pilaf) that are very popular in the subcontinent, Zereshk Pilaf is one of my favourite due to its subtle fragrance, mild tangy flavour and last but not least – the jewelled appearance. The pilaf appeals to all the three senses.

This festive rice dish is steamed and layered with a mixture of red zereshk berries and golden fried onions, spiced with zafran (saffron) and additionally (optionally as well) garnished with almonds and/or pistachios. 


Basmati rice – 2 tea cups (for 4 persons)
Zafran (saffron) – few strands, ground (in pestle)
Onion – 2, thinly sliced
Ghee (alternatively, any white oil) – 4 tablespoon
Red berry (cranberry or zereshk) – 50 gms
Sugar – 1 tablespoon
Salt – to taste
Butter – approx. 25 gms sliced in small pieces

The recipe: (for 3-4 persons)

1. Thoroughly wash 2 cups of basmati rice. And soak it in water for about 45 mins. (If you soak it too long the rice grain may become soft and brittle)

2. Coarsely grind few strands of zafran (saffron) and soak it in half cup of lukewarm water. Leave it aside for about an hour.

3. Cut 2 medium sized onions into juliennes, and fry in oil or ghee. Fry till the onions turn golden brown and release a sweet smell. Ensure  that the  onion juliennes do not burn and turn bitter in taste. Set the fried onions aside. 

4. Saute the dried red berries with a spoonful of sugar in some butter and add a teaspoon of saffron water, for about 3-4 mins. Set it aside.

5. Now it is time to cook the rice. Boil the water, add about 2 tablespoon of salt. When the water boils, add the soaked rice into it. Cook the rice but leave it a little under-boiled (about 90 per cent done) so that when you again steam (‘dum’) the rice later it does not appear overcooked.  Drain the water and put the rice back into the pot (to further cook it for the remaining 10%). Arrange the rice in a pyramidal form and then push in your finger or the handle of a spoon to create small holes. The pyramidal form and the holes in the rice will help to release the steam from the bottom and evenly cook the entire pilaf. Insert bite sized (~ an inch) butter cubes into these holes. Now, cover it well with an aluminium foil (to stop the steam from escaping) and cook it on absolutely low heat for about 15-20 mins more, till fully done.

7. Now it is the time to put together the dish:

(a) Take about a quarter (one-fourth) of the cooked rice (from top) in a bowl, add the zafran soaked water and mix it well. The rice will turn bright yellow in colour. Add half of the sauted berries to the yellow rice.

(b) In the final pot – first put a layer of cooked white rice and spread some beresta (fried onion); add then the second layer of rice – and repeat the same action with adding some beresta and spread a tablespoon of melted butter. Arrange the whole thing (the rice) in a pyramidal structure. Now, Cover the top layer with the yellow coloured saffron rice and mixed with berries. Spread the remaining berries on top.

Your jewelled Zereshk Pilaf or Barberry pulao with sparkling red berries is ready. Before serving keep it covered for some time (~15 mins) to retain the subtle aromas of all its ingredients.


Wash the rice thoroughly, say – four to five times. [Please keep aside the water for your plants , Mother Earth will bless you]. 

Don’t forget to add salt in the water to boil the rice. But not too much since the butter to be added later may be salty as well.

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