Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Table of contents
- What is Morasa Polo?
- Why is it called Jewelled Rice?
- How to cook Persian Jewelled Rice?
- Persian jewelled Rice Recipe
- Persian Jewelled Rice Ingredients
- To Soak Rice or not to Soak
- How to Serve Persian Jewelled Rice
- More Persian Recipes
What is Morasa Polo?
The King of all Persian dishes, Morasa Polo, or Persian Jewelled Rice, bedazzles the eye with twinkles of red, green, orange and gold.
Morasa means jewels and it’s easy to see why this jewelled rice always makes an appearance at major Persian festivals such as Nowruz, the Persian New Year and especially weddings. Its “gems” and sweetness is meant to be a harbinger of a sweet and glorious life for the newlyweds.
You can read more about Nowruz and its tradition on the Nowruz page.
Why is it called Jewelled Rice?
The name, flavour and colour comes from the barberries, raisins, carrots, orange peel, almonds and pistachios. Despite the sour barberries (see handy hints below), the overall taste of Morasa Polow is bordering on touches of sweet, because of the sugar used for most of the ingredients.
Now, I am not a big fan of sweet in my savoury (does that make sense?). So over the years, I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of sugar used in cooking this Persian Jewelled rice.
And in doing so, I’ve also simplified the cooking process a little, and cut down on the cooking time. This part has been necessary for my two hour long Persian cooking classes, which are always full up within hours of going live.
How to cook Persian Jewelled Rice?
The traditional way of cooking Persian Jewelled Rice requires you to prepare every single ingredient separately, to sauté, then caramelise each one with sugar.
While it is a task I would happily perform for a big occasion, I find the final rice far too sweet for my own taste, and most certainly, the Western palate. Even my Persian clients lean towards the not-so-sweet Morasa Polo.
There is a fairly long list of ingredients, but as always, once you have everything ready, it’s pretty straight forward after that.
Persian jewelled Rice Recipe
Once you understand the process, you’ll find it a fairly straightforward recipe. Let me break it down for you.
- We start with parboiling the rice, just like in our basic Persian rice recipe with tahdeeg. Here, I am going to go for a simple tahdeeg of rice, fat and saffron. You can read up more about this by clicking on the link. But I give you a quick explanation of what tahdeeg is below, for our morasa polo.
- Then, we sauté the onions, carrots, barberries and orange peel separately.
- Then we cook our Persian jewelled rice. We start with preparing the tahdeeg, this takes about 3 minutes.
- Then we proceed in cooking the jewelled rice by layering everything.
- Finally, we garnish the rice with some melted butter, rose water and the barberries from earlier.
What do you think? Doable? Let’s go take a look at what tahdeeg is.
Tahdeeg (image above)
It’s that golden crunchy bottom rice layer, the crowning glory of all Persian rice dishes! While many people in the West would call it the burnt bottom of the rice, in Persian cuisine, it is much sought after! In fact, we go out of our way to create this layer of crispy, “glued together” bottom layer.
- tah = bottom
- deeg = pot
You can read more about it and the various other types of tahdeeg on the Persian Rice recipe page.
Persian Jewelled Rice Ingredients
If you can’t get any of these ingredients for our jewelled rice, I suggest you look online for them. These are the barberries I just ordered last week from Amazon.
Click here to read more on how to make liquid saffron and the video for it.
All we do is crush some saffron and soak it in hot water. Although it will last in the fridge for 2-3 days, I always make it fresh as I need it. How much saffron you use depends on what the recipe calls for. In this Persian Jewelled Rice recipe, we need 2 tablespoons.
Barberries, Zereshk is an important ingredient in Persian cooking. They are rather tart and used in anything from rice to chicken dishes, adding an amazing flavour and colour. If unavailable, substitute with dried cherries or dried cranberries.
You could cheat here and get ready candied ones, the sort used in fruit cakes and panettone. The traditional orange peel used in Persian cooking is the dried peel of the Seville orange.
Sometimes, I just make my own by peeling an orange, removing the pith, simmering in water with a tsp of sugar for 5 minutes – see step 5 in the recipe card below.
Nuts in Morasa Polo
These are slivers of pistachios and almonds. You can use both or just the one. Pistachios are a must because of the green that adds to the whole jewel theme.
You can use slither, flakes or coarsely ground pistachios and almonds. The toasted almond flakes found in the bakery isles is a good topping.
These are the pistachios that I get, also from Amazon.
However, if you fancy making your own slithers, here’s a video of mine on YouTube, showing you how to make slivered pistachios and almonds for your Persian jewelled rice, and other recipes:
To Soak Rice or not to Soak
Traditionally, the rice is always soaked in salted water for at least a couple of hours before cooking. However, I have long dispensed with the soaking method, having found that I much prefer the final texture without.
If you are a soaking kind of person though, go ahead, soak in cool water for a couple of hours with 2 tsp of salt.
Let’s get our aprons on! Any questions, just drop me a line!
How to Serve Persian Jewelled Rice
This rice has so much going for it that you don’t really need a whole lot; some grilled or roast meat, a salad and the ubiquitous yoghurt is perfect. Like in the gallery below:
More Persian Recipes
Morasa Polow (Persian Jewelled Rice)
The Rice and Tahdeeg
- 500 g Basmati rice
- 2 Tbsp liquid saffron (pinch of saffron + 2 Tbsp hot water)
- 3 Tbsp ghee or butter
- 60 g dried barberries
- 30 g raisins
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 1 medium carrot julieened
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2½ tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp dried Seville orange peel Or use the peel of a fresh orange, not white bits
- 30 g toasted almond flakes
- 30 g pistachios slithers
- 2 tsp advieh for polo sub with large pinch of ground cinnamon, ground cumin and ground cardamom seeds
- 1 Tbsp melted butter or ghee
- 1 tsp rose water
- plus half the barberries from above
Let's Parboil the Rice
- Fill a large heavy based saucepan with water, add the salt and bring it to a boil.
- Add the rice. Bring it back to boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. If you’ve soaked your rice, check it after 3 minutes, get a grain and bite it, it should be soft on the outside and just resistant on the inside, not raw solid but almost cooked solid. If you’ve not soaked your rice, this stage will be around the 5 minute mark but every rice is different.
- Drain the rice and set aside.
Let's prep our "Jewels"
- Put the kettle on and place the raisins in a small bowl. Leave to soak for 10-15 minutes while you get everything else done.
- Halve, then slice the onions. Set aside. Cut the carrots into thin sticks (julienned), set aside.
- Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil on medium-low heat and sauté the onions for 3 minutes. Tip onto a plate and set aside.
- Add a second Tbsp of olive oil and sauté the carrots for 2 minutes, then add 1 tsp of sugar, stir thoroughly and continue cooking for another minute. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Bring a small saucepan of water to boil with a tsp of added sugar. Add the orange peel in, simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
- Heat 1 Tbsp of butter in the same frying pan and toss the barberries in, along with the final ½ tsp sugar and fry for a minute. The sugar will dissolve and counter the tartness, the butter will take on the flavour of the barberries and the sugar. Tip out onto a plate to stop them burning.Half will be for cooking the rice, the other half for topping.
Let's cook our Morasa Polo!
- In case you forget, take out about 1 Tbsp of onions, carrots, orange peel and half the barberries, and set aside. This will be the garnish.
- Drain the raisins and set aside.
- Time to cook the rice. Wipe the earlier saucepan dry and place on medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of ghee and 1 tbsp of saffron and swirl it around in your saucepan for a few seconds.
- Add 2-3 ladles of the rice and flatten. If this is your first time, and you're not so sure or not so fast, lower the heat while you layer up the rice and ingredients, to stop the tahdig from burning. We will keep aside a small amount of every ingredient for garnishing, about 1 heaped tbsp.
- Cook the tahdig for about a minute, then add a third of your rice, gently, with a spatula, spreading it out.
- Next, sprinkle half of every other ingredient on the list, apart from the garnish.
- Follow again by the next third of the rice, then second half of the other ingredients (not the garnish) and finish off with the final third portion of the rice.
- Using your ladle/spatula, bring the top rice layer to the middle, forming a conical shape. The reason for this is that traditional chelow pots were conical, giving you a wide base for your tahdig. Also given the long cooking time, whatever rice that touches the saucepan is going to crisp up slightly. So you want as much of the rice away from the edges as possible.
- Using the other end of your ladle, poke some holes into the rice, these are the steam “vents”, to allow the steam to come through.
- Wrap the saucepan lid up with the towel and place on the saucepan, ensuring it’s a tight fit. The towel is there to absorb any excess moisture, preventing soggy rice. Make sure your tea towel is nowhere near the flame!
- Cook on that same medium heat for 5 minutes. This should be enough time for the steam to build up. My mum used to wet her fingers and touch the side of the saucepan and if it “sizzled” that meant there was enough steam.
- At this stage, lower the heat right down and let the rice steam away for 30 minutes, giving you a rich golden tahdig, as in the picture on this page. Cook it for 45 minutes for a darker and crunchier tahdig.
- At the end of the cooking time, take it off the heat, let rest for 5 minutes.
- Dish up the polow onto a serving platter and scatter all the leftover ingredients all over the rice.
- Mix the melted butter or ghee with the rose water and sprinkle all over the rice and garnish. Finish up with the pomegranate seeds.
- Dish the tahdig up in a separate plate and break it up for the diners to help themselves to.