I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, magazines, recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines, and downloaded from the internet. It can make choosing what to eat more of a problem, not less, so when I’m stuck for inspiration I have a few strategies: I might pick a book or magazine at random, and just cook anything and everything that sounds delicious. Or I might go into the larder and pick out an overlooked, forgotten-about ingredient and find recipes to use it with.
This last strategy came into play this week, when I found a pot of dried barberries lurking, doing nothing. It was a good move, I made two absolutely divine dishes with them, which went together perfectly: a yellow split pea and aubergine stew, which I found in an old Jamie magazine, and this, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s delightful book ‘Jerusalem’.
Barberries are tiny, sweet-and-sour Iranian berries that add a real hit of intensity to Middle Eastern dishes. You can get them online, and from Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find barberries, use currants soaked in a little lemon juice instead, or dried sour cherries also make a great substitute.
RECIPE serves 6 (modify amounts to suit)
40g unsalted butter
360g basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained
560ml boiling water
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
a pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 tbsp boiling water
40g dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in freshly boiled water with a pinch of sugar
30g dill, roughly chopped
20g chervil, roughly chopped
10g tarragon, roughly chopped
60g slivered or crushed unsalted raw pistachios, lightly toasted
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the boiling water, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan – you need to let the rice to steam properly.
Remove the pan from the heat – all the water will have been absorbed by the rice – and pour the saffron water over about a quarter of the surface, leaving most of the rice white. Cover with a tea towel, reseal tightly with the lid and set aside for five to 10 minutes.
We are not big fans of saffron, some people just aren’t. If this also applies to you then consider finely grating a couple of centimetres of fresh turmeric root (now very widely available from larger supermarket chains) and soaking in a couple of tablespoons of hot water. The flavour is heady and aromatic, it makes a perfect substitute wherever you are called upon to use saffron.
With a large spoon, transfer the white rice to a large bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, reserving a few to garnish. Fluff up the saffron rice in the pan, then fold gently into the white rice – don’t over mix: you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow ones. Taste, adjust the seasoning and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Scatter the remaining pistachios on top and serve warm or at room temperature.