Persian Zereshk Polow – Indian Mattar Pulao – Kachchi Yakhni Biryani


Mughal Emperor Humayun (L) and Iran’s Shah Tahmasp I(R) from 17th C fresco at the Chehel Sotoun, Esfahan. Food images: pulaos and biryani (source: Wikipedia & flickr photo by Meine Wanderlust under CC)

Extending from the post on the emergence of a special class of biryani in Shahjahanabad, here are recipes for Zereshk Polow, Mattar Pulao and Kacchi Yakhni Biryani.

These 3 recipes are presented together to highlight the similarities and differences between the Persian and Indian traditions of pilaf/pulao. The biryani is presented here in its most celebrated sublimation – the Kacchi Yakhni Biryani.

Food historian, author and Persian scholar, Salma Husain has been kind enough to share this recipe with us. The recipe for zereshk polow has been adapted from evocative treatments listed on turmericsaffron.blogspot and Try your hand making all three, enjoying them one at a time, and sharing them with guests.

Zereshk Polow (Persian)
Ingredients Quantity
Basmati rice 2 cups
Zereshk (barberries) 1/2 cup
Saffron 2 tsp (dissolved in 4 tbsp warm water)
Advieh (spice blend) 1/4 tsp
Sugar 2 tbsp
Butter 4 tbsp
Rosewater(optional) 1/2 tsp
Seasalt To taste
Water 4.5 cups (to cook rice)
Preparation of Rice
• Rinse the rice in water till clean
• Add some salt to the water and let the rice soak in this for a few hours
• Heat water in a pot. Once it boils, add the rice and add some salt
• Let it come to a boil and stay that way for 10 minutes
• Once cooked, drain in a colander and rinse under cold water
Preparation of Zereshk
• Sort the zereshk and remove any sediment and stems
• Rinse in water till the water runs clear
• Soak the zereshk for about 5 minutes, then rinse
• Melt 2 tbsp butter in pan, add the zereshk then add the sugar and stir
• Add the saffron water, stir the zereshk for another minute, then set aside
Preparation of Zereshk Polow
• Layer bottom of pot with rice. Over this add advieh and zereshk
• Repeat this over successive layers, till final layer of rice
• Reserve some zereshk for later
• Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes
• Mix 2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of saffron water; pour this over the rice
• Place a cloth over the opening of the pot before placing the lid
• Allow the rice to continue cooking on low heat for an hour
• To serve, place the pulao on the platter and sprinkle remaining zereshk on top
Mattar (peas) Pulao
Ingredients Quantity
Basmati rice 1 cup
Fresh peas 1 cup
Ginger-garlic paste 2 tbsp
Onions (chopped) 2
Green chillies (slit) 4
Mint 2 sprigs
Water 3 cups
Salt To taste
Oil 2 tbsp
Ghee 2 tbsp
Whole Spices:
Shahi jeera 2 tbsp
Bay leaves 2
Cinnamon 2 short pieces
cloves 4
Star anise 2
Preparation of Rice
• Rinse rice and soak for 30 minutes
• Drain and set aside
Preparation of Pulao
• Heat ghee and oil in the pan
• Add the whole spices, stir it around for 4 min
• Add the ginger garlic paste and onions and sauté
• Add mint and chillies, followed by the peas and salt
• Add the rice to this
• Add water (to cover two times the depth of the rice)
• Let it cook till done (approximately 15-20 minutes)
• Fluff the rice with a fork before serving

Kachchi Yakhni Biryani
Ingredients Quantity
Rice 2.5 kg
Meat (chicken/mutton, cut) 3.75 kg
Onion (sliced) 750 g
Ginger 250 g
Garlic 125 g
Yoghurt 1/2 kg
Salt To taste
Lemons 5
Milk 1.25 lt
Salt To taste
Mint 2 small bunches
Fresh coriander 1 bunch
Green chillies 8-10
Raw papaya (grated) 4 tbsp
Garam Masala (whole) To taste
• Chop mint, coriander and green chilli, and grind papaya with its skin
• Wash meat, apply papaya paste and leave aside for 15 minutes
• Fry onion slices. Remove and crush with hands. Reserve the oil
• Add ginger paste, garlic paste, green chilli, mint and coriander, freshly ground garam masala, yoghurt (half), crushed onion, saffron and reserved oil, to meat. Reserve remaining yoghurt
• Leave aside for 2-3 hours. This is kachchi yakhni
• Mix 2 to 3 times then add juice of 2 lemons
• Wash the rice till water runs clear
• Mix the rice with well-beaten yoghurt (reserved from earlier step)
• Spread rice over meat (kachchi yakhni), pour hot ghee and milk around and in the center, then sprinkle remaining lemon juice over rice
• Seal the pan. When water has evaporated and steam begins to emerge, remove from heat
• Place coal over the pan cover and leave on dum
• Serve when ready, preferrably along with its perfect accompaniment – baghare baingan.