a cookbook by souad sharabani

Rice with Cherries and Saffron

I was in Nepal with a team of volunteer healthcare workers who provided basic medical services in remote villages. In the first village we visited, the volunteers set up in a modest two-room schoolhouse. Before long, there was a huge lineup of people—young and old—waiting to see the doctor. According to the doctor, many people in the region suffered from severe respiratory problems.

I walked around the village and talked to the locals through a translator. Most owned small plots of land, and their main crop was rice. One woman invited me to her home. She looked old and had a married daughter, but she was only in her mid-thirties. She told me that she was very upset with her daughter because her daughter’s husband had sent her back home. “The mother-in-law did not like my daughter,” she said. “My daughter did not work hard enough. We had to pay to marry her off and now she is back at home with a baby. We are poor and cannot afford to feed my daughter and granddaughter.”

As the mother spoke, the daughter stood there holding her baby and hanging her head. I don’t think she was more than sixteen. She was a stunning-looking woman but with the saddest face. This young woman then took me to the fields and explained the planting of rice. I asked her what had really happened to her. She told me that her mother-in-law and her husband had beaten her regularly. They believed that her parents had not given them enough dowry and that they could have done better with another family. She bent down, picked a rice stump and blew the shell. Looking at me she said, “I am a big burden on my parents, but I prefer to stay with them than with my in-laws.” I wanted to embrace her and say, “Do not worry, everything will be okay.”

Even though this rice recipe is an Iranian one, I dedicate it to that young Nepalese woman. She was as sweet, if not sweeter, than this dish. This Iranian sweet rice dish is very festive.

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Serves 4 to 6

Note: I like to reserve 2 Tbsp of the oil to sauté the rice in after the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

  1. In a pot over medium heat, sauté the onion with 2 Tbsp of the oil until light golden.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the orange peel and cherries. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, including the saffron with its soaking water. Stir to mix well.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil. Loosely cover the pot and reduce the heat to low; simmer until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

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