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Favorite Food Friday: Zereshk

Sharp with flavor, rich in vitamin C, and high in pectin, the zereshk berry-- the Persian food name for the dried fruit of the Berberis Vulgaris shrub-- is grown all throughout Iran: the largest producer of the zereshk berry, and often used in chicken dishes and rice dishes like Zereshk Polo and Barberry Rice. 

ZereshkCultivated widely in the Iranian province of South Khorasan (especially in Qaen and Birjand), the use for the zereshk berry extends far beyond hot rice and chicken dishes and lends itself to other culinary recipes for jams, fruit rolls, and juices. The vast levels of vitamins and proteins found in the zarashk provide a nutritional element to anything it's cooked with and a flavor that's as tart and acidic as the saffron (also widely cultivated in South Khorasan) that grows along with it. 

These edible red-colored fruits have been used in Iranian and European cooking recipes for many centuries. In Europe, the zereshk berry was employed in similar ways that a citrus peel was used---for flavor and pazzaz-- but today finds itself vacant from many European food dishes. Though in Persian food, these small berries are still a commonly used ingredient for poultry and meat seasonings, and as a main flavoring to Russian candies called "Berberis" that picture the dried fruit on its packages. The tartness of the zereshk berry is also an important food source for many birds and often used in herbal medicines as well. It's active integrants, berberine and isoquinoline alkaloids, are effective in treating the symptoms of poly-cystic ovarian syndrome symptoms. 

But despite its services in other areas outside of the culinary circle, this delicious dried fruit is mainly rendered as a currant in Iranian rice pilaf dishes. 

As the most colorful tidbit of Zereshk Polo, the zereshk berry is the perfect accompaniment to a multitude of different Iranian dishes such as barg kabob (filet mignon), baked fish, lamb kabob, jooje kabob (chicken), and sauteed salmon. And if you want to make your own version of this popular side dish, all you need is Basmati rice, a half-cup of zereshk, saffron water, and butter (optional)--that's it! In moments, you can be cooking your own version of Zereshk Polo, or whatever cuisine you decide to create.