I bought some zereshk in an Iranian Bazaar event held every year in the basement of the Holiday Inn in downtown Beirut. Going there is a bit surreal. The hotel is guarded by the army, and its facade still bears all the marks of the fierce fighting that took place in its midst during the war (the war of the hotels phase): One sees huge shell holes and bullet holes and it is totally empty inside. The parking is intact and was packed. In the Bazaar, Persian rugs galore, nut sellers (the most popular stand), small gadget sellers (I bought several grape leaves stuffers), and so on.
The zereshk are called barberries in English and apparently used to be popular in England at one time. They are found in Middle-Eastern stores, health stores, or online. They can be easily substituted by dried cranberries. Like all other berries, they are full of antioxidants and fiber. The zereshk need to be soaked in water for 15 minutes, drained and patted dry. Prior to serving them, it is a good idea to panfry them in oil or butter for a couple of minutes till glistening and tender.
I was emboldened when I met some Lebanese ladies there who excitedly told me that they used the zereshk for their fattoush or their spinach turnovers (fatayer) instead of sumac. These berries are tangy and a bit sour, just like sumac.
This is an easy and creative version of a dandelion dish (hindbeh bel-zeit) which is part of every good mezze in Lebanon. I had included the recipe in the cookbook and wanted to try something different. Every Lebanese cook I know boils the chopped dandelions, then dumps their water. I came-up with an easier way, tasty but radically different.
- 2 or 3 bunches of dandelions, washed, chopped coarsely
- 1/2 cup prepared muhammara
- 1 cup zereshk or dried cranberries or raisins or a mixture.
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or honey or molasses
NOTE: If using zereshk, soak them in water 20 minutes, drain them, dry them and pan-fry them in 1/4 cup of oil or butter for 3 minutes over low heat.
1. Place the chopped dandelions in a large soup pot. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Let the dandelions cook gently for 20 minutes, then add the muhammara and stir to combine well. Taste and add more if you like. Add the zereshk and raisins (if using), with one tablespoon of sugar or honey or molasses and stir to combine. Simmer gently another 15 minutes. Serve warm.
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