Thursday, 31 January 2013

Barberries - Zereshk - زرشک

My first encounter with fresh zereshk was when I was too little to understand what the fuss was all about.  On a scortching hot day, we made a trip to the city of Birjand (far East) to visit a cousin of my father's.  Our journey began from Babol (City of narenj blossom) in the North.  The car was packed with family members and dad was the driver.  I sat on my aunt's lap for the entire journey.  My grandma Dade-Bajee, aunt Talaat, uncle Parviz and aunt Haleemeh came along too. 

We saw not much apart from dry desert, dust and occasionally a few cars.  I cannot recall how close to Birjand we were but Grandma spotted something.  She believed she saw zereshk shrubs. The zereshk shrubs were too precious to appear along the road full of ripe berries. Of course, no one believed her at first but her persistence paid off and the car was parked on the side of the road.  We got off the car but the extreme heat was unbearable. Every time a car drove past us we were covered with dust and our eyes were filled with dust.  A few steps on the soft sandy desert and we were sinking in the burning hot sand.  Even now I remember how hard it was just to pick a hand full of those berries under the burning sun.  I was immediately asked to return to the car for shade. The shrubs had tiny thick leathery leaves full of thorns protecting these delectable desert berries. In the hot summer day these clusters of red juicy egg shaped berries looked like little jewels hanging on the branches of zereshk shrubs.

Zereshk or sereshk is the persian name for barberry. Zereshk has dark red to purple red colour with tart taste and can grow in climate with cold winter and very hot summers. According to Encyclopedia, there is evidence that zereshk cultivation goes back to two hunderd years in Persia. This is one of the most highly prized berries in the world. Apparently, there are two types European and Persian Zereshk. Persian zereshk is seedless. The most popular way of eating zereshk amongst Persians is to serve with rice and as it is an exotic ingredient, it is mainly used in formal and festive food.  Zereshk juice, jam and roll ups are other common products. Zereshk is available in dried form. When buying zereshk, look for deep red colour and store Zereshk in the freezer to avoid browning.

It is best to soak it in cold water for few minutes then rinse under running water. The  way to prepare it is by melting little butter (vegetable oil also works well) in hot pan then add zereshk and sugar, sauté for about a minute and remove from heat or until sugar melted and zereshk is plumped up. Sautéed zereshk and dissolved Saffron is added to parboiled rice before steaming or mixed with cooked rice just before serving.

Zereshk is one of the ingredients that brings the flavour of Persia to your plate.

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