Instant Pot Barberry Rice (zereshk polo) studded with tangy berries and crowned with a golden saffron hue comes together so quickly in the pressure cooker. If you’re not familiar with these jewel-like berries, check out this post about barberries (zereshk).
I’ve been eating barberry rice, also known as zereshk polo for a very long time. Back when my husband and I were dating, we would often meet at a Persian restaurant nearby to both of our offices. He always knew the best dishes to order and pointed me towards zereshk polo ba morgh. Barberry rice with chicken. That was when my love affair began (with him and zereshk polo).
Traditional Persian Barberry Rice vs. the Instant Pot Version
Fast forward very many years and I am now confident enough to prepare cuisines of all kinds at home. But I am also a realist. Traditionally, rice for Persian dishes is rinsed, soaked, parboiled and then steamed. Honestly, it’s not hard. But sometimes we all need a short cut. That’s where the instant pot comes in. (you could also use a rice cooker – but that’s another post!)
What Kind of Rice Should you Use?
Basmati rice is the rice of choice for Persian food. It is a long grain rice that you can find in local Middle Eastern markets, Indian markets and more than likely in a well-stocked large chain store. But it’s important that you use basmati rice – not quick-cooking Uncle Ben’s, or Jasmine, or Japanese short grain or Chinese mid-grain.
I won’t go into a long lesson on the differences now, but suffice it to say this recipe was developed using basmati rice, not the other types. Also, you will find bags that say extra-long grain basmati vs just basmati – I used Sadaf aged basmati rice imported from India. I did not use the extra-long grain, but likely that would work as well.
Basmati rice grains, when cooked properly should remain separate and distinct. This characteristic makes them perfect for soaking up all kinds of flavor. But on its own, basmati rice has a lovely nutty and floral aroma. Not as floral as Jasmine rice, but it carries a flavor profile of its own, rather than acting just as a bland backdrop for other ingredients.
Having said that, it still marries beautifully with other flavors as in this dish where saffron and tangy barberries are added. Or when served with a saucy stew or fish or meat main course.
Do I Need to Soak the Rice?
Generally, you should soak basmati rice. But when I tested this recipe, I didn’t find a big advantage when I soaked it. So I suggest you can skip this step for Instant Pot cooking. Expediency, especially if you are making this mid-week, matters.
Should I Rinse the Basmati Rice?
I recommend rinsing the rice until the water runs clear. Then drain it and add the rice and the specified amount of water to the instant pot.
Steps to Prepare the Rice
- Rinse the rice until the water runs mostly clear. Probably 2-3 rinses.
- Drain the rice and put it in the instant pot.
- Add the water, salt and oil and mix it around.
- Set the Instant Pot for 5 minutes of high pressure.
- Let it do natural pressure release (NPR) for 10 minutes.
- Then carefully release the rest of the pressure.
- Open the pot and use a fork to fluff the rice.
- Remove some of the rice to mix with the saffron and barberries.
Steps to Prepare the Barberries
- Soak the barberries in some warm water for 10 – 30 minutes
- Extraneous dirt and other debris will sink to the bottom of the bowl.
- Lay the drained berries on a towel or paper towel so you can check that all the stems and other foreign matter are gone.
- Dry them off.
- Sauté them with a bit of olive oil. Add a dab of sugar if you prefer to tone back their tartness.
Steps to Prepare the Saffron
- Use a mortar and pestle, if you have one, to crush the saffron threads.
- Soak the threads in water.
- When the barberries and rice are ready, you add the saffron water and barberries to the portioned-out basmati rice. This creates a distinct yellow rice studded with ruby red barberries to lay on top of the white rice.
What if my Rice Sticks to the Instant Pot?
Unlike in a rice cooker where my rice rarely, if ever, sticks, you may find a few grains stick to the inner pot of the Instant Pot. When I was testing this recipe, I found it stuck less and had a nicer consistency with the addition of some oil.
If I play with the recipe, the “stickage” is an indication that we probably could create a nice crust on this rice imitating a tahdig (traditional Persian crusty rice). But that, too, is a topic for another post!
What to Serve with Instant Pot Barberry Rice
Traditionally, zereshk polo is served with chicken. Any of these chicken dishes would pair nicely with this rice or try the Persian kabob or Persian stew recipe:
Supplies for Making Persian Barberry Rice
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Instant Pot Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polo)
Instant Pot Barberry Rice or Zereshk Polo is the shortcut version of this traditional Persian dish. Beautiful to look at and beguiling to eat, you'll want to add this to your weeknight and dinner party menus all the time!
- 2 cups basmati rice rinsed
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil separated
- 1/2 cup barberries rinsed, drained, dried
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron ground, soaked in 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar optional to sweeten barberries
Prepare the Rice
Rinse the rice until the water runs mostly clear. I usually rinse 2-3 times.
Drain the rice and put it in the instant pot.
Add the water, salt and oil and mix it around.
Set the Instant Pot for 5 minutes of high pressure.
Let the instant pot do natural pressure release (NPR) for 10 minutes. Then carefully release the rest of the pressure. (I cover the release valve with a towel and use the end of a wooden spoon to move the valve to open and let the steam release through the towel.)
Open the pot and use a fork to fluff the rice. Remove 2 cups of the rice to mix with the saffron and barberries.
Prepare the Barberries (while rice is cooking)
Soak the barberries in some warm water for 10 – 30 minutes. Extraneous dirt and other debris will sink to the bottom of the bowl.
Lay the drained berries on a towel or paper towel so you can check that all the stems and other foreign matter are gone. Dry them off.
Sauté the barberries with the other tablespoon of olive oil. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar if you prefer to tone back their tartness.
Prepare the Saffron (while rice is cooking)
Use a mortar and pestle, if you have one, to crush the saffron threads.
Soak the threads in 2 tablespoon of water.
Put it all together
Mix the saffron water and barberries with the 2 cups of rice you portioned out.
Place the rest of the rice in a nice serving bowl or platter and then add the saffron barberry rice mixture on top.
Serve with chicken or kabobs or stew - any dish that goes well with rice.