Main Dishes

Vegan Zereshk Polo – Barberry Rice with Tempeh

A version with dried cranberries and caramelized almonds. Even without the grated carrotts delicious.

Zereshk Polo was introduced to me many years ago through a Persian friend. I immediately fell in love with the dish and her cooking skills. After going vegan I made a few attempts to create a vegan version that tastes as much as possible like the original version I was introduced to. By that, I am talking about the fluffy rich consistency and the amazing flavors!

In the first picture, you see what was more or less an “accident” but turned out to be the best vegan version of the recipe we have had so far! Initially, I planned to make it with mushrooms that I had purchased for this recipe. As I opened the box in the midst of preparations, I realized that they were bad, so I had to improvise with what was there instead of driving back to the store.

A version with grated carrots (like the original recipe), caramelized almond sticks, and a high-quality rice brand. Here, I used an extra-firm, pressed tofu instead of tempeh, the result was amazing with the perfect amount of crispy crust! The crust is the indicator for a perfect combination of steaming temperature, time, and the oil. Tempeh or tofu? I recommend making it with tempeh first, as it is one step less of work (pressing). I love both, and could not pick one over the other!

A vegan version that everyone loves- even meat-eaters

The flavor of it combined with the berries, the scent of the rice, and the seasonings are just the perfect combination. This recipe became one of our favorite specials.

The ingredients make around two of these plates and are enough for 6-8 people depending on how hungry they are. Usually, when I have guest, I never end up with leftovers of this dish. It is the perfect dish to prepare for a group or a buffet. If you want to make it a fancy dinner just for you or a smaller amount of people, you can use half of the ingredients. It also tastes great the next day, in case you have leftovers! If I make barberry rice just for us, I always make more because we all love it, even 2 days in a row!

How to achieve the best result

Not overcooking the rice is important for this dish, especially the first cooking round in water. Draining and rinsing it with cold water interrupts the cooking process, which prevents the grains from overcooking. You can tell that the rice is overcooked when the grains are soft and the ends break off.

Turmeric, saffron, rose water, berries, make this dish a special experience for your taste buds! Caramelized almonds or Moroccan saffron almonds take the dish to another level (optional- recipe follows)

The right combination of soaking, cooking, steaming and a good quality long grain rice will lead to a fluffy result with nice and long grains that can reach up to 3/4-inches in length.

Thoroughly washing, soaking, cooking, and steaming the rice at low temperature is important for a great result. It takes a bit of practice if you have never made this recipe, but it’s so worth it!

Don’t hold back with the amount of oil for this recipe, it enhances the texture of the grains and develops a nice rice crust on the bottom. I also recommend that you try to find rose flower water, it gives the rice an extraordinary nice flavor and scent! You can find it in Mediterranean stores, where you will usually also find long grain basmati rice.

Use a cotton kitchen towel to prevent the rice from drying out when you steam it.

Tips for the best taste experience

I love to mix olive oil with coconut oil with a teaspoon of toasted hemp hearts. I let it simmer for around 3 to 4 minutes at low temperature. The oil develops a nice and nutty scent, you can also use hemp oil and mix it with coconut oil. Or just use coconut oil if you don’t have hemp hearts or hemp oil, it will still taste great!

Tip: If you have a hard time finding barberries, try dried cranberries. They are a great substitute and also taste amazing in this dish. You don’t need to wash them. I recommend slicing the cranberries into smaller pieces as they puff up and soften during the cooking process when used as a whole.

Yield: 8

Zereshk Tolo - Barberry Rice with Tempeh

Zereshk Tolo - Barberry Rice with Tempeh

This vegan version of Zereshk Polo is a feast of flavors! Turmeric, saffron, rose flower water, and berries, make this dish a special experience for your taste buds!

Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes


  • Ingredients saffron Water:
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Ingredients rice:
  • 4 cups Basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 3-4 Tbsp + 3-4 Tbsp melted vegan butter (or olive/coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp rose water
  • Ingredients sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons of oil (I use olive oil for the sauce)
  • 1 big onion
  • 1 pack of Tempeh
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1.5 tsp pepper
  • 1.5 Tbsp Turmeric
  • 4-6 Tbsp of the saffron water
  • Ingredients Zereshk (Barberries):
  • ½ cup dry barberries
  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter (or coconut oil)
  • 2 medium grated carrots
  • 1 splash of lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp of rose water
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • The rest of the saffron water


Preparation saffron water:

Using a mortar and pestle and crush the saffron threads to get the most flavor and coloring out of them. Transfer the saffron into a heatproof little bowl or cup. Boil one cup of water and pour it over the saffron. Let sit and proceed with the other preparations.

Preparation rice:

Wash the rice very thoroughly and drain the water. Repeat the process until the water is as clear as possible. It will not become completely clear due to the starch in the rice, we want to remove as much starch as possible to get the long fluffy basmati grains. When you wash the rice, use your hands and move the rice around in the water. After washing, add water again and let the rice soak for about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large 4-6 qt non-stick cookpot with water, but let some room for the rice you are going to add later.  Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the water is at its boiling point, add the 2 Tbsp of salt. The water has to be salty to enhance the flavor of the rice. Excess salt will be rinsed off later.

Drain the rice and add to the boiling salted water. While carefully stirring a few times, bring it to another boil. Be careful when you stir and use a large wooden spoon or a spatula. The stirring supposed to prevent the rice grains from sticking togetThe cooking time is around 6-7 minutes. Check on the rice after 5 minutes. The first step is done when the grains are soft at the ends but still firm in the middle.

Take the pot from the heat, keep 4 Tbsp of the cooking water aside. Transfer the rice into a strainer and rinse with cold water to interrupt the cooking process and to wash off the excess salt.

Place the empty non-stick cook pot on the stove, add 3 Tbsp of vegan butter, and heat the butter until melted (you can also use coconut or canola oil). Carefully pour in the rice. Add the 4 Tbsp of cooking water. Since we removed all liquids from the rice, we add some back before we steam it.

Add the 2 Tbsp of rose water, sprinkle the 3 Tbsp of melted vegan butter (or your oil of choice), and 4 Tbsp of the saffron water over the rice. Place a kitchen towel on the pot and the lid over it, fold the ends of the towel over the lid to prevent it from catching fire. Let the rice steam at low temperature for 35 to 40 minutes. Check on the rice after 30 minutes to not overcook it. But don't open the lid too often, to prevent the rice from drying out.

Preparation Sauce:

Chop onions and garlic. Cut the Tempeh in small cubes of around half an inch. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a frying pan or cooking pot at medium temperature. Add onion and garlic, salt, and pepper and stir regularly until onions are caramelized.

Add the turmeric before the onions are browned entirely and stir in. Now add the Tempeh and stir
carefully.  When everything is nicely browned, add 4-6 Tbsp of the saffron water and 1 Tbsp of oil. Stir carefully to mix everything, turn the heat off and leave the lid on the pot.  

Preparation barberries:

Pick through your barberries and make sure there are no stones or other elements. To wash the barberries, I recommend placing a strainer in a big bowl, fill the barberries into the strainer and let them soak in plenty of cold water for a couple of minutes, and then rinse thoroughly, several times if necessary.  

While the barberries are soaking, wash, and grate the carrots. Add a splash of lemon juice and mix well. Set aside.

Place a pan on the stove and heat 2 Tbsp vegan butter (or coconut oil) at medium heat. Add the barberries and stir until every berry is oiled. Add the rest of the saffron water and 1 tsp of rosewater (optional, but recommended). Cook for around 3 minutes and keep stirring frequently. After 3 minutes, add the grated carrots, 1 Tbsp of sugar, and mix well until sugar is melted in. Take the pan from the stovetop and start preparing the plates or make one big serving plate.

Mix the rice and the barberry-carrot mix carefully. While the rice was steaming, the bottom turned into a crispy crust, decorate some of the crust on the plate(s) and top with the tempeh.


Tips: If you have a hard time finding barberries, try dried cranberries. They are a great substitute and taste amazing in this dish. You don't need to wash them. I recommend slicing the cranberries into smaller pieces as they puff up and soften during the cooking process when used as a whole. After slicing them, you can use them in the recipe like the barberries.

For the ultimate taste experience, I recommend caramelizing raw peeled almonds or almond sticks as a topping.

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