The Persepolis Ingredient Clinic #5: Barberries

Barberries. They’re indigenous to the UK you know. Apparently there is a barberry tree on Rye Common, but our customers won’t tell us where it is for fear we’ll go and harvest the lot. As with so much of our culinary heritage we have forgotten what to do with these little red berries, but back in the day (Mrs. Beeton’s times and before) we used to make jus and jelly out of them to go with rich game dishes.
In Iran they are still used in great quantities in two – three classic dishes: zereshk pulao, khoresht-e-gheimeh khalal (which you will find in Veggiestan), and for stuffing things such as fish.
There are a couple of golden rules for usage therein: firstly they’re really not good raw, and secondly they live up to their name by being full of barbs and occasionally stones – for this reason you need to pick through them and wash them carefully before use.
Here’s our handy list of things you can use your barberries for, should you be lucky enough to have a bag in your pantry:

  • boil them with just a little sugar or honey, press them through a sieve, and drink the juice – it is sooo good for you, cleaning the blood and the kidneys and dumping a whole load of vitamin C in your system;
  • soak them (this allows any sediment to sink to the bottom of the tub, scoop them out and fry them: you can then use them in salads. Try mixing them with your favourite grain, chopped spring onions, plenty of fresh chopped herbs and a saffron dressing;
  • fry them with raisins, almonds, pistachios, sour cherries, carrot slivers and sour orange peel and stir the mixture through saffron rice to create the famous dish morasa pulao (jewelled rice)
  • boil with a little sugar and condense into a thick paste; the paste once dried becomes fruit leather, enjoyed across the Middle East as a confection. You can also use it in cooking;
  • mix with walnuts, rice, dates, ginger and orange juice/zest for a top stuffing for duck or turkey;
  • make a coulis to go with sorbet – oh look, there’s a handy recipe below….

The Persepolis Patent Barberry and Lime Coulis

  • 125g barberries, picked through and washed
  • 400ml water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • 2cm knob of ginger, peeled and chopped

Put the barberries in a pan together with the water and all the other ingredients. Bring the contents of the pan to the boil and reduce by roughly half, stirring from time to time. Strain and press through a sieve and allow to cool. Drizzle artistically over faloodeh (Persian noodle sorbet) or tarts or anything you like really.