To help us learn more about Persian (a.k.a. Iranian) food, we turned to culinary authority Najmieh Batmanglij. In addition to insight on Persian culinary traditions, she provided us with recipes from her book New Food of Life.

What to buy: When purchasing saffron, choose threads rather than powder, which is too often adulterated with turmeric.

Sour cherry syrup can be found online at

  • Yield: 6 servings
  • Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients (14)

  • 2 Cornish game hens or 1 frying chicken, about 3 pounds total
  • 2 large peeled onions
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 3 8-ounce jars, pitted sour or morello cherries in light syrup, or 4 cups dried pitted sour cherries (see note)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups long-grain basmati rice
  • 1 piece lavash bread
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons slivered pistachios, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, for garnish
  • 1/2 cup cherry syrup (see note), for garnish


  1. Stuff the hens with the whole onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Add a few drops of the saffron water and cook in a covered baking dish in a 350°F oven for 2 hours.
  2. Drain the cherries. Place cherries and sugar in a saucepan. Cook for 35 minutes over high heat. Strain the cherries over a bowl until no syrup remains. Save the syrup. Add 2 tablespoons butter, and cinnamon to the cherries and set aside.
  3. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.
  4. Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen grains stuck together. Bite a few grains. If the rice is soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse with 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.
  5. In the same pot, place 4 tablespoons oil, 1/2 cup water, and 1 tablespoon saffron water on a layer of lavash bread so that it sits evenly over the bottom of the pot to help make a golden crust (tah dig).
  6. Place 2 spatulas of rice in the pot, then add 1 spatula of cherries. Do not add syrup. Set aside 2 spatulas of cherries for garnish.
  7. Repeat, alternating layers of rice and cherries in the shape of a pyramid.
  8. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. This will help form a golden crust on the bottom of the pan. Pour the saffron water over the pyramid and reduce the heat.
  9. Place a clean dish towel or 2 layers of paper towels over the pot; cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook 40 minutes longer over low heat. Remove the lid and pour a mixture of 1/2 cup of cherry syrup and 1/4 cup of melted butter over the rice. Cook for another 10 minutes.
  10. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. Take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside with the rest of the garnish.
  11. Gently taking 1 spatula at a time, place the rice on a platter without disturbing the crust on the bottom of the pot. Place the hens or chicken around the rice. Mound rice in the shape of a pyramid. Garnish with the saffron rice, cherries, almonds, and pistachios. Pour 1/4 cup hot cherry syrup and 2 tablespoons melted butter over the rice pyramid. Detach crust from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula and serve on the side. Nush-e Jan!

Variation: You may substitute meatballs for the chicken. In a bowl, combine 1 pound ground meat with one grated onion. Add salt and pepper, and knead well to form into tiny balls the size of hazelnuts. Brown in a skillet in 2 tablespoons oil. Add 2 tablespoons sour cherry syrup to it and set aside. In steps 7 and 8, add the meatballs, 1 spatula at a time, along with the cherries and rice.

Note: In the US, sour cherries are often called tart cherries. If using fresh or frozen sour cherries, add 1/2 cup of sugar to each pound of cherries. Cook over high heat for 35 minutes, then drain. If using dried sour cherries, add 2 tablespoons butter and cup [sic] sour cherry syrup and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. If using sour cherries in light syrup, drain and discard syrup. Add 1 cup sugar, boil over medium heat for 30 minutes, drain and save the syrup. If using sour cherries in heavy syrup, do not add sugar. Do not cook the sour cherries; just add 1/2 cup hot water to the cherries to dilute the syrup, then drain them for further use, because the syrup is too sweet to use on its own.

© 2007 From New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij by permission of Mage Publishers