Blueberry-Cherry Rice

I suppose I have blueberries on my mind. They are available everywhere now, and my kids can gobble up a pint or two of fresh blueberries in a flash. In fact, I don’t often get too cook or bake with fresh blueberries because they get eaten before I can my hands on them! Not that I am complaining!

After our ordeal, um, I mean visit at Disneyland, my husband and I packed up the kids and car and headed home to San Diego. We stopped at a Persian Market in Orange County to do a little grocery shopping, because after two weeks away, the kitchen was sparse. Fabulous fruits and vegetables were available and I quickly stocked up on green plums, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, and do I see sour cherries?

My mother made sour cherry rice, alebaloo-pollo, often when I was a kid. It’s fabulous with the holiday turkey. My mom usually used frozen cherries or found sour cherry preserves and used them for the dish. I never ate fresh sour cherries. And again, my family gobbled up quickly the box I bought!

I started craving sour cherry rice, but I wanted to try it with blueberries. Sound strange? Sweet rice is very common in Persian cuisine. It is commonly served at celebrations like weddings, engagement parties and birthdays. We have a number of rices and stews that use fresh or dried fruits. So why not with blueberries?

Since the fresh blueberries and cherries were eaten, I chose to start with frozen cherries and blueberries. I added less sugar than usual, because the cherries were sweet and not sour. To tone down the sweetness, I added some fresh lemon juice, as well. Once the fruit was cooked and a syrup was formed, I moved on to the next step.

What goes well with sweet, but a little sour. I wanted to serve some saffron-lemon marinated chicken with my rice dish, so I marinated some chicken breasts in lemon juice, saffron and onions. After marinating overnight, I browned and cooked the chicken in the pan. We were out of propane, but it would have tasted even better on the grill.

Rice can appear to be intimidating to make, but it is actually very easy. With basmati rice, the key is to boil the rice until it is half-cooked, drain it, then return it to the pot and let the steam finish cooking it. It is when you return the rice to the pot that you layer in the blueberry-cherry compote, with a little of its juicy syrup. You can add the chicken to the rice during the steam process or serve it on the side.

The result?

I am happy to report that blueberries and cherries make a wonderful combination, and my mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed my experiment! This sweet rice would pair well with a roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or any other meat combination. So this winter, when you are missing the summer fruits, go to the freezer and have a taste of summer with this blueberry-cherry rice.

Blueberry-Cherry Rice with Lemon-Saffron Chicken

    lemon-saffron chicken:
6 chicken thighs
1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 TBS hot water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 large onion, sliced
salt & pepper
1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil.

Directions for chicken:

1. In a shallow bowl place:
6 chicken thighs

2. In a small bowl combine:
1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 TBS hot water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 large onion, sliced

3. Pour marinade and toss to mix.

4. Marinate chicken for 4 hours or up to overnight.

5. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.

6. Heat large non-stick pan over medium-high heat and add:
1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil.

7. Brown both sides of chicken, approximately 5-7 minutes each side.

8. Add marinade, juice only, and bring to boil.

9. After 5 minutes, reduce heat to medium-low and cover chicken. Cook until done, approximately 30 minutes.

    blueberry-cherry compote:
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 lb fresh or frozen cherries
1/2 lb fresh or frozen blueberries
1 TBS fresh lemon juice

    rice:
8 cups water
2 TBS salt
3 cups basmati rice
1/2 tsp ground saffron
1 TBS hot water
2 TBS melted butter
1 1/2 TBS canola oil
1 russet potato, cut in circles 1/2″ thick (or tortilla bread cut in strips)

    Directions for rice:

1. While chicken is marinating, place a saucepan:
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 lb fresh or frozen cherries
1/2 lb fresh or frozen blueberries
1 TBS fresh lemon juice

2. Cook for 35 minutes over medium-high heat.

3. Strain fruit over a bowl until no syrup remains. Reserve the syrup.

4. In a medium-sized bowl cover rice with water.

5. Gently wash the rice by stirring the rice in the water with your hand. This helps wash some of the starch and grit out.

6. Pour out the water and repeat two more times.

7. After washing the rice a third time, cover and soak the rice with water.

8. In a small bowl mix:
1/2 tsp ground saffron
1 TBS hot water
2 TBS melted butter.

9. Bring to boil in a 5-quart non-stick pot:
8 cups water
2 TBS salt

10. When the water has come to boil, pour out the water in the bowl containing the soaking rice. Add the wet rice to the boiling water.

11. After the rice and water comes to boil again and the rice floats to the top of the pot (approx. 6 mins), pour the contents of the pot into a fine colander. You know your rice is ready to strain if you bite a rice kernel and the center is uncooked.

12. Return the pot to the burner, set heat to medium and add:
1 1/2 TBS canola oil
1 russet potato, cut in circles 1/2″ thick (or tortilla bread cut in strips)

13. Using a spatula, gently scatter the drained rice over the potato slices in the pot, covering all of the potato. Make sure you do not push the rice in together as this will result in mushy rice.

14. Add approximately 1/4 cup of strained fruit evenly over layer of rice.

15. Drizzle 1 tsp of reserved fruit syrup over rice.

16. Add another layer of rice over the fruit until fruit is covered.

17. Add another layer of fruit and another teaspoon of syrup, and continue alternating layers into the pot, forming a pyramid shape. Your pot should not be filled to the top. You will need about 3 inches between the top of your rice and the top of the pot. If you must tap the rice off of your spatula, do not tap it against the pot. This will move the rice in the pot and press them together. Tap your spatula against the colander.

18. Pour the saffron mixture evenly over the top of the rice.

19. Cover the lid of your pot with a clean towel or several paper towels, and set firmly over your pot to prevent steam from escaping. The towel will keep the condensation from dropping back into your rice and turning the rice into mush.

20. After 7 minutes, lower the heat to low and let the rice finish cooking for another 45 mins. You will know your rice is done because it has fluffed up. Another trick to see if your rice is down is to lick your finger and quickly touch your wet finger against the side of the hot pot. If you hear a sizzle sound, your rice is done (and hopefully your finger isn’t burned!).

21. Rice can be served two different ways. First, you can place a large plate over the top of your pot. The plate must be large enough to cover your pot with plenty of room to spare. Grab the plate and pot handles and carefully lift the pot and flip it over so the pot is facing down on the plate. Put the plate on the table and gently wiggle and lift the pot up. A second option is to use a spatula to gently scoop the rice out and onto the platter. On the bottom you will find the crust (called “ta-dig”) and you can place the pieces along the platter.

22. If you have undercooked your rice during the boiling stage and your rice isn’t cooked after 45 minutes, you can add a couple teaspoons of water to the rice, cover the pot again and have the new steam help finish the cooking. If your crust is soggy, leave it in the pot and let it sit under medium-high heat until crunchy. If your crust won’t come out of the pot, stick the bottom of the pot in a sink filled with a couple inches of cold water. This will help the crust come out.

23. Serve the rice with the saffron chicken or alone.

NOTE: You can also shred the cooked chicken and add to the layers of rice and fruit, as I first did. I used chicken breast, which dried out a bit in the steaming process. This is what I changed in the final recipe.

Check out other great recipes at Family Spice!

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