Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice (Polow)

Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice

Luscious sour cherries….saffron….basmati rice….if there ever was a rice dish that could tease me into submission, this would be it. When I lived in Hollywood, I used to frequent a Persian restaurant and order just a big ginormous platter of cherry saffron rice with two 16″ spears of hunky shish kababs. A dish designed for two, consumed by one, me.

By the way that I talk about food, you’d think I have an eating disorder addiction obsession. When presented with a food that seranades me to a sweet trance, I simply must consume. In fact, I eat more than my 5’11” 195 pound husband. I have no idea where it all goes. Maybe, just maybe I am a chosen one and possess something extraordinary. There are some who are gifted with such lovely musical talents they can bring you to tears with a single note. Some artists can create gorgeous landscapes that make you feel lost in its beauty. And others are so mathematically inclined they can complete the Rubic’s Cube in 60 seconds (my husband.)

My talent? I have been blessed superhuman strong toes (I can strangle a snake with a single, swift motion…which comes in handy when living in Florida), I can wiggle both my ears without touching them (don’t ask my why I consider that a talent) and I have a bottomless belly (one serving is never enough). If I were a super hero, I’d be Bottomless Belly Babe!

Thats SO SEXY you know.

How that all relates is beyond me. Did I stand in the wrong line when God handed out talents? Did I oversleep when the auction took place and I got the obscure, leftover talents? Anyhow, back to the rice. Imagine a golden rice dish dancing with the intoxicating flavors of saffron, tart cherries and drizzled with a sweet, dark, sticky cherry syrup. Thats what Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice is.


I order my sour cherries from Quality Spices. This brand, Zergut, is great – its imported by Indo-European based in Glendale, CA. My mom in Los Angeles buys this at the Middle-Eastern store. You can use canned sour cherries for pie making as well, found at your standard grocery store. With the quality is not quite as good as Zergut, it definitely will work. Just get the canned version that has sour cherries packed in light syrup, not heavy syrup. See photo below: the clear bowl contains boiled-down sugary syrup for drizzling on rice.

sour cherries


Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice

Servings: Prep Time: Cook Time:


1 24-oz jar of sour cherries in light syrup (or 1 can sour pie cherry, light syrup), drained and syrup reserved
1/2 teaspoon saffron, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
3 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup butter, melted (I use clarified butter, but regular butter will work)
1 cup sugar


1. Soak the rice: Wash and soak the basmati rice in water for 2 hours. This step is not totally necessary, but it does produce a more tender rice.

2. Make the rice: Drain the rice. Fill a large pot with water and boil. Add the rice and boil on medium heat for 8 minutes exactly. Drain the rice and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking. Drain. In the same pot over high heat, add half of the butter. When hot: Add half of the drained rice Pour half of the saffron+soaking water over the rice Stir a bit Add half of the drained cherries Add remaining rice Pour rest of saffron+ soaking water Add remaining butter Stir just this layer a bit Add the remaining drained cherries *Traditionally, this is done in a pyramid shape. I'm not coordinated enough to handle that request. The wider the pan you have, the more crusty rice crust you get.

Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice

Wrap your lid with a thin kitchen towel and cover the pot. This helps the steam stay in the pot, which is important because you aren't adding any additional liquid to the pot. Cook on high for 10 minutes (to create a nice crunchy crust). Turn heat down to super-low for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. Make the syrup: While rice is cooking, cook syrup + 1 cup sugar over medium heat for 30 minutes until it reduces down to a sweet, sticky syrup. Set aside.

4. Serve: When the rice is done, drizzle 1/2 cup of the syrup over the rice. See the nice crust of rice at the bottom of the pan? Its well known that household bribery, deception and wars have erupted over who gets to eat that part!

Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice

Thanks for guessing what was in the rice. Ashley & Wandering Chopsticks were spot-on. A question for my Indian and Middle Eastern friends – are the words Biryani and Polow both used similarly? I always thought Biryani was an Indian dish and Polow is Persian. Is there an Indian version of cherry rice that is different than the Persian? -Tigers & Strawberries has a version with lamb -Chopoholic made Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice with Chicken Kebabs seasoned with Pomegranate Paste.

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Comments 48

  1. deb

    This is so beautiful. We grew up with a sour cherry tree in the backyard, so I have a huge soft spot for them, though of course as a kid I thought they were the cruelest thing ever because they LOOKED like a perfectly delicious cherry but tasted caustic. Now I love them.

  2. tigerfish

    Perfect colors! The saffron, cherries and syrup made this such a sophisticated and “classy” dish to look at as well – I like the bold combination of dark hue of red, and golden yellow.
    I can also “smell” the lingering fragrance in your kitchen.
    Now I cannot eat this :(…I can only find the nearest indian restaurant nearby, eat the saffron rice, think of your Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice, and imagine I’m eating Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice. :O

  3. Stephanie

    Yum, this looks so good *pulls out padof paper* “note to self, MAKE THIS!”.

    As for the talents, I can’t wiggle my ears :(, but I have super strong toes too. I’ve never tried strangling a snake with them πŸ™‚ but I can carry around a 10lb dumbbell with my toes (and I can’t find anyone else who can lol)


  4. Mandy

    speaking of talents, I think you forget to mention your talent in taking nice food photography, making delicious food and constantly making your readers laugh. πŸ™‚

  5. Lynn

    That looks amazing and I want some now! Question, though, what would your super-hero costume look like? My 5 year old is way into super-heroes and I think he could help design something for you. With a cape. And toes strangling a snake.

  6. Ashley

    this is one of my husband’s FAVORITE persian dishes. i’m half persian but didn’t spend a lot of time with that part of my family, so i’m very glad to see this recipe! i’m going to have to try this out with a good chicken kebab recipe soon!

  7. Rose

    Waouhhhh, This is one great looking rice. So colourful and so exotic. Lovely as always, Jaden

  8. SteamyKitchen

    Melinda- Oh, I totally forgot the garnish on the dish! Crispy pig ears!

    Deb- I didn’t like them either when I was little. Our neighbor had the tree and we used to pick the cherries and stick’em in our ears and up our noses. Mom always thought we had bloody noses. Wow. that was gross.

    Tiger- are you allergic to cherries?

    Tartlette- now I just need to come up with a way to make my talents useful

    Stephanie – 10lb dumbell!?!?! (searching house for dumbell)

    Mandy- Awww…shucks Mandy. Thanks!

    Lynn- My superhero costume would probably have to be an apron with BIG pockets to stuff leftover doggie bags in!
    A cape would definitely add the superhero credibility factor! Wonder Woman had a cape!!

    Ashley – Oh please share your chicken kabob recipe!

    Rose & V- Thank you!

  9. Danielle

    Actually, the sour cherries on my father’s tree are almost ripe, so I’ll get to make this with fresh sour cherries soon! Maybe juice some to make up for the lack of jar syrup.

  10. Mercedes

    I adore polow/chelow, my Persian friend always makes it in a large shallow skillet, then turns it out in one big crusted cake. The crust (known as tah-dig) is the best!

    P.S. Biryani and polow are definitely not the same, different techniques.

  11. SteamyKitchen

    Danielle- Yeah, that should work…just reduce down to a syrup with sugar. (me envious of you! i want a cherry tree!!!)

    Mercedes- The next batch I’m going to try the inverted move. Perhaps my superpowers will guide me through a successful, elegant, swift movement.

    Steeped- May the force be with the strong-toed bottomless belly babe!

  12. tigerfish

    No no no…I’m not! I’m not allergic to anything edible. ;p
    I cannot eat this because I won’t be cooking this (for a while I guess) – no saffron …how to cook this? πŸ™ …so until I buy saffron, I can only do what I have originally dream about – eat “A”, imagine and think of “B” while I eat “A”, and assume I’m eating “B”. So sad.

  13. cindy

    oh my, it sounds so delicious! actually, all the last something like five or six posts made me drool! ;] (i have been catching up on my favorite blogs…been working too much to read them all!) the cherries sound really good…the ‘bottomless belly babe’ thing made me laugh out loud!

  14. Ellie

    That looks absolutely divine! Whilst I’m usually not keen on sweet rice dishes, going by the flavorings involved in this one, I think if that were anywhere near me I’d be in danger of hoovering the entire pot by myself! Yeouch!

  15. wmw

    Thanks for dropping by my blog…..will be visiting again. Your pics are gorgeous and the food should taste absolutely wonderful. Too bad I can only see it…can’t use my other 4 senses! :o)

  16. Tea

    You had me at “sour cherry.”
    Wow, I’ve never heard of this dish but I am going to be craving it until I either make it or find a restaurant that will do it for me. I’ve not had a lot of Persian food, but everything I’ve had I’ve adored–it fits my palate perfectly–and this looks right up my alley, crispy rice on the bottom and all.
    PS. Nice stove:-)

  17. Amy

    The color of that dish is so bright and gorgeous! I love the crust on the bottom, I agree that it’s the best part. Mmm.

  18. SteamyKitchen

    Tiger- Or “C” go out to eat at a Persian Restaurant! Plenty in bay area!

    Cindy- oh you just wait until Lynn’s son makes me a cape

    WMW- thanks for stopping by. I love your photography too.

    Ellie- And I would totally share some of that lovely crunchy crust with you….

    Tea- stove envy!!! πŸ˜‰

    Amy- I have to confess, I ate half the crust as I was plating the rice. (blush)

    WC- You get a prize! I’ll give it to you on Sat when we meet in LA

  19. Lydia

    What an absolutely gorgeous dish! And how lucky that you are blessed with being able to eat and eat… wish I could do that, too!

  20. Anh

    Ah, so it is cherries! This is really lovely, if I can ever find that bottle of cherries! πŸ˜€ I have something similar in my pantry though. And I’ll pair it up with rice following your post. πŸ˜‰

  21. Carol

    I loved your recipe, when I lived in Teheran I’d go to La Residence (maybe not there any longer), and I’d have this dish with either Chelo kebab or chicken. mmm, now I ive in America and planted my own cherry tree two years ago and I have, as of this morning, 5 kilos of cherries so far. So, I’m on my way to cooking one of my favourite dishes from Iran.

  22. Nat

    I envy your bottomless stomach. I can eat a surprisingly enormous amount for someone only 5feet tall, but bottomless my stomach is not.

    And this rice? This rice looks amazing.

  23. SteamyKitchen

    Lydia- no you wouldn’t want this talent….I can never lose that last 15 pounds!!!

    Kenny- Oh I most certainly will!

    Anh- can’t wait to see what you come up with.

    Carol- Please post your recipe and photo and let me know when its up!

    Nat- Thank you Nat! Tonight at dinner I just consumed as much as my mom and dad put together. I really really wonder where it goes…lets just hope that it goes to my brain and my super-toes.

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  25. Nikki

    OMG…that looks amazing!! (I must admit I’m having trouble typing for fear that I may drool on my keyboard!) This is my favorite Persian dish, and I’ve been looking for a recipe for forever…you’re my hero! I live in Glendale, CA – so I’m so exited that I’ll be able to find the ingredients for this rice. πŸ™‚

  26. SteamyKitchen

    Nikki- LOL! don’t drool on keyboard! You could short it out! I used to live right near Glendale in Highland Park. There was a Persian restaurant in Glendale that I used frequent years ago. (sigh) ahhhh…memories….

  27. Ashley

    i made this last week and wanted to thank you again for posting the recipe – it was divine! my husband said that he felt like he was in the restaurant that made him fall in love with sour cherry rice πŸ™‚

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  31. soulchocolate

    This looks so, so good Jaden, i’m totally in love with the picture. This recipe really puts the zing into grains.

  32. Pete, Torrance CA

    I just made this rice, absolutely fabulous! I added some salt because I thought it lacked it; do you guys add any salt?

  33. Mario

    This dish looks delicious. It’s also one of my favorite dishes to order when I go to Persian restaurants. I have one question: does all that soaking and washing and rinsing of the basmati rice not cause it to lose some of it’s fragrance?

    Also, a comment on your question regarding polow versus biryani. A former roommate I had, who was from India, told me that “biryani” refers to a cooking technique involving the addition of very thinly-sliced onions browned until they are very crispy and caramelized. The brown color of the onions changes the color and flavor of the dish, creating the “biryan”. I’m no expert, so I can’t vouche for that explanation, but I watched her do it with a lamb dish that she called “biryani” and which did not include rice.

    Soaking helps with rice:water ratio and makes rice more tender. ~jaden

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  35. Burke

    If you find yourself with “extra saffron” as I did, don’t double the amount called for…a little goes a long way. I’ll leave it at that. Also don’t read 3 cups as 3lbs..or you will have A LOT of rice! Trying to do this from memory was painful, but I can see the beauty in the dish! Will try again!

  36. alex

    Im persian so i have had this a billion times. It is the greatest dish ever! If you can find someone who is persian and try homecooked cherry rice!

  37. Shelley

    I LOVE sour cherry saffron rice….EVERY time we went to eat Persian, I got it. BUT THIS RECIPE IS THE BEST I HAVE HAD….I have made this dish at least 15 times now…..Just made is for a perisian food virgin…..he LOVED it. ANd that crust? OMG! This is a beautifully written recipe and relatively easy. I make it on weekenights, and even make it when it’s LATE….because, really. 40 minutes and I get this? Ummmm…thats a no brainer!!!! My husband says I keep ruining his restaraunts because it’s so much better. In the restarant…it really is just basmati with cherries and a bit of saffron juice. JUST NOT THE SAME !! Thanks so much for posting this recipe.

  38. mangoes2020

    In order to succeed this recipe you have to use Diamond Pearl Basmati Rice. This is a Pure Indian Basmati rice. If you want more informations go on the website or send a mail at [email protected]

  39. Kathy Sardella

    I just read your post about the sour cherry saffron rice dish. Something that you could not eat it, but there was not a reason given. Are you allergic to any of the ingredients or perhaps you have to watch the sugar content? If you contact me I can use my medical and nutrition background (and substitute cooking experience ) to see if you can enjoy this dish (and any others) with a few modifications. I do this for free. [email protected]

    Physician Assistant

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  41. ItalianCypress

    Made this with fresh sour cherries, raw organic sugar, sprouted brown basmati rice, sea salt and pistachio oil.

    I cooked the cherries in two cups of water withe the cup of sugar for five minutes. Removed the cherries and continue to cook the remaining juice until syrupy.

    I do not recommend using brown rice as the taste and texture were a bit harsh for this delicate dish.

    I served it with fish and green beans to the family.

    I ate it solo. I can see how this dish can be addictive. I plan to make it again with proper basmati.

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