Cherry Season in Israel

by Sarah on June 25, 2009

cherry rice june small  2009 001

It is cherry season in Israel and I almost missed it, how could it be that I didn’t notice the ruby red fruits at the super market? When I went to the shuk in Tel Aviv all I saw were mounds of cherries, from bright red sour cherries, to deep purple and even swirled apricot and rose varieties. Here was cherry season, gorgeous, aromatic luscious cherries, not hidden under plastic boxes and stacked in industrial rows in the refrigerator.

For years now I have wanted to try an exotic recipe I first read in a Hebrew language Persian cookbook. Among the myriad of rice dishes was Persian cherry and saffron rice, albalu polow, which seemed to embody the mystic of the Silk Road. This recipe calls for sour cherries that were not always available in Israel so eventually it was lost to many in the Persian community. I have a neighbor whose parents are Persian but never tasted this rice before because he was born in Israel at a time when the cherries could not be obtained. The Russian and Uzbeks who had immigrated at a later date brought their own culinary traditions and with them sour cherries have become very popular. This I know from asking the vegetable merchants who tell me that the Russians prefer the sour cherries to the sweeter varieties. I also had a friend who worked as a food engineer in a family owned company creating jams and jellies marketed specifically to the Russians with flavors such as sour cherry. Perhaps now, after so many years, Persian cherry rice can again reign supreme in Israel.

The sour cherry (P. cerasus )has its origin in Iran and Turkmenistan.  Israel now grows at least nine cherry cultivars, both sweet and sour including Ranier, Bing and Van.

Persian Cherry Rice

There are huge differences in the hardness of the basmati rice from one place to another caused by the growing conditions, cultivar type and age (basmati is usually aged for two years).  In most cookbooks the rice is soaked for 30 minutes before it is cooked but I omit this step because the rice in Israel is soft and would disintegrate.

2 cups basmati rice

4 cups sour cherries, washed and stoned (sour cherries are the middle ones in the first picture)

1/2 teaspoon saffron ground and soaked in 2 tablespoons of water

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons yogurt (optional)

3 tablespoons clarified butter

3 tablespoons of pistachios, roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons of slivered almond

4 teaspoon butter

Put the cherries in the pot and add 1/2 cup of sugar. Cook for 30 minutes. Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup.

Bring salted water to a boil and add the basmati rice. Add the rice and cook for 7 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water. Mix the cherries with one tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Rinse the pot clean and add the clarified butter and heat on high. Mix the yogurt with 3-4 tablespoons of rice and one teaspoon of saffron water. When the clarified butter is hot add the yogurt mixture to the pot covering the bottom with it with a wooden spoon. Add a thin layer of rice, alternating with a few tablespoons of cherries shaping the mixture into a pyramid. Using a wooden spoon poke holes into the rice all the way down to the bottom where the crust is forming. When steam begins to emit from the holes cover the pot with a towel and put the pot cover over that, folding the sides of the towel over the top.  Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Lift the cover and add 1/2 cup cherry syrup, the remainder of the saffron and two teaspoons of butter. Cover again and cook for another 10 minutes. Let stand for another 10 minutes with the cover on. Meanwhile, in a frying pan add 1 teaspoon of butter and brown the almonds and pistachios.  In a large plate, mound the rice using a spatula leaving the bottom part of the rice intact. Decorate the rice with the nuts.  In another dish place the crispy bottom part rice which is called tah-dig and is considered a delicacy.

cherry rice june small  1 2009 005


Najimieh Batmanglij, New Food of Life

Iranian Cooking, Gideon Kalimian (Hebrew)

Cereal Chemistry

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mahboob Ahmed June 25, 2009 at 4:44 am

The ideal way to cook Basmati is to soak and simmer it for longer time and boil only once.

Basmati basically has highest capacity to absorb water as this characterstic after cooking make it longer (elongation) and maintain its shape.

Water absorption process should be kept slow.Therefore, soak it in plain water before cooking for 30 minutes and after boiling once on low heat under a tight cover let it simmer for 15 minutes. Soaking and simmering time be adjusted according to quantity. Small one serving quantity the time will reduce and for bulk cooking like 20 servings the time will increase.

When cooking Basmati Rice as Cuisine dish in combination with other ingredients like Chicken or Vegetable or Chickpeas than semi cook all other ingredients first and add Basmati Rice in the end and than do the final cooking. Simmering is must for good aromatic & fluffy cooking of Basmati Rice

Do not repeatedly stirr the Basmati Rice while cooking as it breaks the Rice grain.

By nature Basmati is hard Rice and most of the other Rice varieties are soft. To enable Basmati to become long, fluffy by absorbing water cook it gently.


admin June 25, 2009 at 6:13 am

Ahmed, Thanks for the information. I have tried soaking the basmati rice in the past but it almost always came out mushy. I think that what is labeled “basmati” here is not as hard and therefore the extra soaking step is unnecessary. Perhaps I need to reduce the time. You are right that basmati is never stirred during cooking, which I forgot to mention above.


lisaiscooking June 25, 2009 at 6:57 am

This sounds just delicious with the cinnamon and saffron! I never seem to be able to find sour cherries here, but I hopefully some day.


Shaya June 29, 2009 at 5:59 am

I just adore cherries. This is one of my favorite Persian rice dishes. My grandmother’s version is slightly different. She does not add any cinnamon – it feels like that would cloud the bright sour cherry note? Also she never added yogurt, although I know that is a way to encourage a nice tahdig.

Although basmati can very well be prepared by long-time boiling, I do not find it has the same fluffy properties that make it so unique using this method. I prefer the method of par-boiling followed by steaming with some oil and butter.


aviva January 10, 2010 at 12:33 am

The sour cherry saison in Israel is very short 2 to 3 weeks end of June, but you can pit and freeze them to enjoy Albalu pollow anytime .

I would like to recommend you Shaherazade rice, it is available at shuk Levinski and in Machaneh Yehuda, the Basmati rice we get here is a little “hard” for persian taste, I use it only for plain steamed rice.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: