You’re probably thinking I’m a little late wishing “Happy New Years” to all of our readers! Any merriment involving eating, celebrating, and starting the year over again is reason enough to commemorate it! For Persians all over the world, March 20th is the first day of spring, and therefore the first day of the year. Luckily for all of us who live outside of Iran, we have the opportunity to celebrate January 1st and set resolutions; and if perhaps we just fall short of achieving all our goals, in March we have the opportunity to try again!
Most significantly, doesn’t the first day of spring make better sense as the day to start the New Year? Everything is new and fresh: the sky is blue, sunny and crisp; the snow has melted, the trees and flowers are in bloom again, and the animals are out and enjoying nature once again! In Farsi, we say ‘Norooz’ meaning ‘new day’.
My fondest memories of my Persian heritage celebrating New Years involve visiting with family and friends wearing new garments given by my parents (a tradition to give new clothes to start the New Year). Of course, every house we visit involved eating! It is customary to serve tea and sweets to all guests. As an offering of respect, families usually gather to feast at the house of the eldest member of the family- usually the oldest grandparent or aunt/uncle.
Customarily, Persians prepare fried white fish accompanied with herbed rice as the main meal. To not break tradition, my mother of course follows convention, but also includes one of my father’s and my favorite Persian dishes: ‘Albaloo Polo’. Literal translation of albaloo polo is ‘sour cherry rice’.
Sour cherries are usually grown in colder climates. It is not a popular fruit in the United States; however, cities with colder climates are falling in love with this fruit all across the world! You can purchase this sour and sweet fruit in most Middle Eastern Markets during the summer. But the preserve can be found at most specialty markets throughout the year.
I am sharing my recipe for albaloo polo with you. It is a delicious and beautiful traditional dish. Sweet and sour cherries mixed with rice and saffron - need I say more? In my opinion, it should become the ‘new traditional’ meal for Norooz! Cherry blossoms and spring have always been synonymous in my heart during Norooz.
Whether or not you celebrate Persian New Years, Albaloo Polo is a celebration for all taste buds!
4 cups basmati rice
2 12 oz. jars of sour cherry preserve
¼ tsp ground saffron mixed with ¼ cup hot water
½ cup slivered almonds and ¼ cup slivered pistachio (optional)
1 pound of chicken legs- skinned if you prefer (also optional for vegetarians!)
½ cup melted butter *organic, grass fed and finished butter preferred
1. Follow directions for preparing Persian Rice up to the section of straining with cold water ‘al dente’ cooked rice.
2. In a non-stick medium sized pot, place ¼ cup vegetable oil and ¼ cup water. Sprinkle over the mixture enough of the ‘al dente’ rice to cover the bottom of the pot (usually 5-6 large spoonfuls of rice, about ¼ of an inch). Spoon over the rice approximately 6 tablespoons of the sour cherry syrup. Then add remaining rice on top. With the end of a wooden spatula, penetrate 3 holes from the top of the rice mixture to the bottom of the pot, allowing heat to rise during the cooking process. Pour melted butter over entire rice. Place pot over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, and then turn heat down low. Cover pot with a paper towel (to absorb moisture)and lid. Cook for 50-60 minutes. Make sure the paper towel does not catch on fire; therefore, raise the sides of the towel or cut excess.
3. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat 3-4 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add chicken legs and fry until a beautiful dark golden layer appears. Salt and pepper to taste. Turn pieces over and again develop a golden crust. Now reduce heat to low, add 6-7 tablespoon of water and 2 tablespoon of saffron mixture to the pan. Making certain most chicken pieces are introduced to the saffron mix. Cover pan with lid; allow a little opening to permit hot air to escape. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked to the bone. Occasionally turn chicken pieces and adjust heat to allow even cooking.
4. In a small pan, add 3 tablespoon of cooking oil, pistachios and almond slivers. Place over low heat and stir for about 4 minutes until mixture warms up. Shut off heat and allow the slivers to continue cooking in oil.
5. In another small pot heat over low heat sour cherry preserve until warm (approximately 5 minutes). Shut off heat and keep warm.
6. Once the rice has cooked, from the top of the pot, remove 5-6 tablespoons of rice and place in a small bowl. Add remaining Saffron and ¼ cup of oil to the rice. Gently toss to evenly blend the rice with saffron.
7. In a large serving platter, spoon 5-6 tablespoons of the cooked rice. Add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cherry preserve and its syrup- gently toss and spread mixture over platter. Repeat this step until you have used all of your rice and have reached the bottom of the pot where a dark, crispy rice cake has formed. On top of the rice mixture, spoon over the saffron rice mix and slivered almond and pistachio slivers.
8. In a separate small size serving platter, spoon out crispy rice crust - this is the best part! It is dark pink, sweet and sour, crispy rice delight.
9. In another serving platter or on the sides of your rice platter, place chicken pieces.
Your beautiful platter is ready to be served!