Jeweled Rice (Javaher Polow) 8.000

Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Mar 12, 2019

Served on most festive occasions, such as weddings, this saffron-infused rice dish, decorated with bright barberries, golden raisins and sweet apricots, is fit for royalty like Purim's Queen Esther. While this dish is time-consuming, it isn’t complicated, and the result is so visually stunning and delicious that the effort is well worth it.

Where to Buy: Dried barberries must be rinsed clean of grit; this will take about 30 minutes (see NOTE, below). Dried, unsweetened sour cherries may be substituted, which do not need advance prep. The barberries can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets or online.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 8 servings; makes about 6 1/2 cups, including the tahdig

  • 3 cups raw white basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 9 cups water
  • 2 large oranges, preferably organic
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, or more as needed
  • About 1 ounce whole dried barberries or chopped, unsweetened dried sour cherries (about 1/2 cup; see headnote and NOTE)
  • About 1 ounce minced, dried apricots (1/4 cup)
  • About 1 ounce golden raisins (1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt or non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
  • About 1 1/4 ounces sliced raw almonds (1/4 cup)
  • About 1 1/4 ounces shelled, chopped raw pistachios (1/4 cup)

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Wash/rinse the rice in a large bowl of cold water, swishing it around with your hand. Let the rice settle, then drain, and repeat four more times or until the water runs clear. Reserve. (While you’re washing the rice, you can do the next few steps.)

Stir together the cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, pepper, cloves and turmeric in a small bowl.

Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of the orange peel from the fruit (including a little of the white pith is okay). Slice the strips crosswise into very thin slices and drop them into the boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse the peel (reserving the 2 cups of blanching water), then return just the peel to the saucepan. Add the carrot strips, sugar and 1 cup water; once the pot returns to a boil, cook (high heat) for about 10 minutes to form a slightly thickened syrup. Strain the mixture, discarding the solids, then stir the cardamom spice mixture into the syrup.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet until shimmering over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often, until light golden brown. Season lightly with salt, then add the drained barberries or cherries, the apricots and raisins; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Combine the 2 cups of reserved blanching water and 6 cups cold water in a large, heavy, preferably nonstick pot over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, then the rice and 1/4 cup of the reserved orange-carrot syrup. Once everything comes to a boil, cook for 6 to 10 minutes (high heat), until the rice rises to the surface. Bite a few grains' worth — they should feel soft. Drain the rice through a large, fine-mesh strainer, rinse with cold water, drain and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Rinse out and dry the pot, then return it to the stove, over low heat. Pour in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil. While that's warming, combine 1 cup of the cooked rice, the yogurt and 2 teaspoons of the saffron water in a separate bowl. Spread this mixture in an even layer over the oil;

the yogurt will help to form a tender, caramelized crust called a tahdig.

Stir the cardamom-spiced syrup into the remaining cooked rice, until well incorporated, then transfer to a big pot (preferably with a non-stick bottom). Shape the rice into a pyramid; this will allow room for the rice to expand. Cover tightly and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil with the remaining saffron water and 1/4 cup cold water. Uncover the large pot and pour the liquid mixture over the rice pyramid. Lay a clean dish towel over the open pot, then place the pot lid firmly on top of the towel. Cook for about 50 minutes; the rice will be cooked through and the crust should be crispy on the bottom and deep golden-brown.

To serve, transfer the rice to a serving platter or large wide bowl. Top with the barberry-onion mixture and then the nuts.

Use a thin spatula to gently dislodge the tahdig from the bottom of the pot, and serve, in pieces, on the side.

NOTE: If you use barberries, pick through them to discard any stems or debris. Rinse them under running water, then transfer the barberries to a bowl of cold water. Soak for 30 minutes (the sand will settle to the bottom). Using a fine-mesh strainer, gently fish out the barberries, drain and reserve. (If using dried tart cherries, skip this step.)

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Recipe Source

Based on a recipe from “Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies,” by Najmieh Batmanglij (updated; Mage, 2016).

Tested by Jacob Brogan.

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