Meet the most incredible rice dish you'll ever try – Shirin Polo! This special, jeweled rice is usually served at weddings to bring sweetness to the new couple. It's a sweet rice pilaf with dried fruit, nuts, and candied orange peel.
It goes by many names; it can be known as as morasa polo, javaher polo, or shirin polo. Morasa translates to the surface that gets designed with jewels. Javaher translates to jewel, and Shirin translates to sweet.
Use a little more saffron in this dish if you can, because this rice is supposed to be magnificent and fit for royalty!
Shirin Polo is the main event, and each ingredient represents a jewel e.g. Barberries represent rubies while pistachios signify emeralds. Photos truly don't do Shirin Polo justice – it's a beautiful recipe as well as a delicious one.
Why this Recipe Works
If you usually think of rice as a less important side dish, think again for Shirin Polo! This recipe takes extra time to prepare each ingredient and it is well worth it. I've organized the order to best utilize your time.
The recipe combines savory and hearty carrots and onions with tart barberries, candied orange zest, and Persian 7 Spice (Advieh). Sugar is added to balance the tartness of the barberries, as well as juicy raisins and currents.
The components are prepared separately so they can bring their own flavor to the dish, and then they are gently steamed together so they can come together and marry beautifully.
Often served with chicken, you can pair this dish with any protein or veggie you love. I like to have this rice be the main event of the meal and pair it with simple sides like roasted veggies.
Ingredients & Substitutions
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Rice – long grain basmati rice is important in this recipe, as it is in most Persian rice dishes
Sugar – use regular white cane sugar, turbinado sugar, or light brown sugar
Currents – these are best for this recipe because of their small size, but you could use dark raisons, or chopped dried prunes
Onion – yellow or red onions are the preferred choice for Persian fried onions
Oil – any flavorless oil like grape seed, avocado oil, sunflower, peanut oil, or canola will work
Barberries – replace barberries and the added sugar in that step of the recipe with cranberries without added sugar
Almonds - buy them slivered or thinly slice them yourself. I show you how to peel them below.
Persian 7 spice (advieh) - make a batch to keep in the pantry or for every teaspoon of advieh use ⅓ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon coriander, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of cardamom
Note: I have an entire post dedicated to Persian pantry items and the brands I use if you need some help in that department.
How to Make this Recipe
This is a labor intensive recipe, so we start by preparing some of the components before steaming them all together with the rice.
Preparing the components
The first step is to soak the almonds and pistachios in water for at least 10 minutes and up to an hour. This helps to soften them up and help you remove the peel from the almonds.
Drain the nuts and set them aside. Make sure to peel the almonds (if you are using whole almonds) before slicing them thinly or just buy slivered almonds ready to go. The skin should pop right off after soaking them.
Next, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and cook until it is light golden brown in color, rather than just lightly cooked. This can take up to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set the onion aside.
Then, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over a medium to medium-low heat. Add in the rinsed and drained barberries, currants, and golden raisins.
Cook them all for 2 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon of sugar, and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until they become soft and plump. Remove from the heat and add them to the bowl of onions you just set aside.
Note: Keep your eye on the barberries, they can burn easily.
Now, remove the white part of the orange peel. I do this using a vegetable peeler. Julienne or thinly slice the orange peels. Add them to a saucepan, cover with water, and bring the water to boil.
Boil the peels for 2 minutes. Drain the water, cover with more water, and bring to boil again. Repeat this process 3 more times. This process is important to remove the bitterness of the peel.
Next, add the drained orange peel, carrots, 1 cup of water, and ⅓ cup of sugar together in saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and simmer the whole thing for 15 minutes.
Drain the water and add the carrots and orange peel to the bowl with the onions and dried fruit.
Preparing the rice
Finally, the rice! For full in depth instructions with photos, see my recipe for Persian Steamed Basmati Rice. Follow this recipe through step 4. Here is the gist:
Bring about ⅔ a pot water of water to boil. Add 3 tablespoon salt. In the meantime, wash rice 3 times with lukewarm water. Add the rice to the boiling water and gently stir. Bring it back to a boil, then remove the lid to keep from overflowing. When al dente, strain. Do not overcook! If salty, rinse with cold water. Shake colander to remove as much water as possible.
Bringing it all together
Add 3 tablespoon of oil to the rice pot and add half of your rice. Then add in half of the other ingredients and half of the spices. You want to make sure everything is evenly distributed throughout. Mix and fluff the entire mixture with a fork.
Next, add the remaining half of the rice then the remaining ingredients and spices. Pour over the ground and steeped saffron.
Note: I do not usually fluff or mix the second addition of rice and ingredients.
Using a kitchen utensil, gently pull the rice away from the edges of the pot so it forms a sort-of pyramid. Using the back side of the kitchen utensil, make 6 deep holes in the rice, then put the lid back on.
Pour the ground and steeped saffron over the rice. Cover the whole thing and cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
Note: When steaming rice, we tie a kitchen towel around the lid to help absorb the excess moisture. This can be unsafe if you don't have experience because the towel can come undone and catch fire. Please only use the kitchen towel method if you will be keeping an eye on the pot.
Note: You can also just cook the rice with the saffron and garnish the top in rows or a design with the dried fruit, nuts, and carrots. I prefer steaming them together with the rice so that all the flavors gently marry together.
Serve and enjoy. Noush-ie-jan!
Shirin Polo Recipe FAQs
Julienne is a style of cutting vegetables into very thin pieces, like matchsticks. This cut makes them cook faster and makes them smaller and easier to chew in bigger dishes like noodles or stirfrys.
This recipe will create a fantastic Shirin Polo, but if there's one element or ingredient you're not a fan of, you can go without and tailor this dish to your preferences.
Barberries (zereshk) are a little rare, but you may be able to find barberries at your local grocery store. If not, you will easily find them at your Persian or Middle Eastern grocery store, or online. I usually use the Sadaf brand.
Boiling the orange rind removes the bitterness in the rind and lets your palette enjoy the orange flavor of the rind without the bitterness.
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Shirin Polo aka Morasa or Javaher Polo
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 2 pinches saffron steeped in 2 tablespoons of hot water
- 1 orange
- ⅓ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon
- 2 carrots ⅓ cup, julienne
- ½ cup oil 3 tablespoons for the onion, 3 tablespoons for the rice, 1 tablespoon for the dried fruit
- 1 onion cut in half and thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup golden raisins washed in cold water and drained
- ⅓ cup barberries* washed in cold water and drained
- ⅓ cup currants
- ⅓ cup pistachios
- ⅓ cup almonds** slivered
- 1.5 teaspoon Persian 7 spice or ¼ cardamom ½ cumin ¼ rose petals ¼ cinnamon ¼ black pepper
- Soak the almonds and pistachios for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Peel the almonds if using whole almonds before slicing.
- Next, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and cook until it is light golden brown in color, rather than just lightly cooked. This can take up to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set the onion aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium to medium-low heat. Add the barberries, currants, and golden raisins. Cook for 2 mins, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until soft and plump. Remove from heat and add to the bowl of onions.
- Remove the white part of the orange peel and julienne or thinly slice the orange peels. Add them to a saucepan with water, bring to boil, boil for 2 minutes, drain, add more water, bring to boil, etc 3 more times. This removes the bitterness of the peel.
- Add the drained orange peel, carrots, 1 cup of water, and ⅓ cup of sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and add to the bowl with the onions and dried fruit.
- Bring about ⅔ a pot water of water to boil. Add 3 tablespoon salt. In the meantime, wash rice 3 times with lukewarm water. Add the rice to the boiling water and gently stir. Bring it back to a boil, then remove the lid to keep from overflowing. When al dente, strain. Do not overcook! If salty, rinse with cold water. Shake colander to remove as much water as possible.
- Add 3 tablespoon of oil to the rice pot and add half of your rice. Gently mix and fluff with a fork. Then add in half of the other ingredients and half of the spices. I don't usually mix the second half. Pour the ground and steeped saffron over rice. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes***.
- Serve and enjoy... Noush-e-jan!