Growing up Iranian-American has taught me a lot about food. Early on, I learned to love texture just as much as taste, thanks to crispy, salty tah dig and my grandmother’s comfortingly mushy eggplant stews. My upbringing steered me so that I love fermented foods, mainly yogurt and various forms of vinegar. Most of all, though, my childhood diet primed me to a set of tastes some of my peers have yet to encounter.
One of these flavors is what I like to call the sour bomb, which usually comes in the form of sour albaloo cherries hidden deep within stew, pomegranate molasses mixed into fesenjoon, or dried barberries shimmering atop a mountain of rice. The sour bomb is integral to our palates and always waits somewhere on the Iranian table—maybe it’s just lurking in a jar of spicy pickles, but I promise you, it is there.
Easy never tasted so awesome.
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Want a sour bomb of your own? Go straight to the source: Barberries. Also known as zereshk, barberries are primarily harvested in Iran; they’re also cultivated in northwest Africa, various regions of Europe, and the United States and Canada.
Common barbarries (Berberis vulgaris) are about ½ an inch long and grow in clusters on the shrub of the same name. The berries turn red once ripened and have a distinctive tart taste. In stores, you’ll find them dried. In Iran, the tiny fruit from the barberry bush is sold as street food and is used to add brightness to chicken stews and basmati rice dishes. It’s also used as a topping for faloodeh, a thin, noodle-like frozen dessert.
According to Cook’s Info, barberries were once used like lemons before the citrus was widely available. They’ve been used medicinally around the world (they can calm gastric aches and are great for the liver) and are high in vitamin C and B complex vitamins.
You can find dried barberries in international grocery stores or on specialty stores such as Persian Basket or Sadaf. Before you start cooking, rehydrate them by soaking them in cold water for 15 minutes.
Of course, it’s totally fine to start simple with your foray into cooking with barberries. Since they’re so tart, they’re perfect for adding a pop of flavor to pastries like scones and muffins or neutral grain-based dishes like steel-cut oatmeal. Following the sour bomb rule, they’d be great stuffed inside a Persian-Inspired meatloaf. Enjoy barberries in their full glory with a Persian dish like kookoo sabzi or zereskh polo.
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