In a perfect world the people from different cultures would come together in harmony, to enrich and spice up the quality of life on this planet of ours. Turkey and Cranberry Polo, ‘rice’ is my way of bringing together two cultural dishes, with origins thousands of miles apart. This is a delightful dish with exquisite flavors that will be a festive treat for the upcoming holidays and years to come!
I have developed a recipe that is a festive and gorgeous holiday dish with a Persian flair; no whole turkey required! This turkey and cranberry rice is pleasing to the eye as well as a feast for the taste buds, and it’s made with enough turkey for an intimate gathering.
The ingredients and makeup of this dish is different from the traditional turkey dinner, or the usual Iranian zereshk polo ba morgh. However, turkey has never been so juicy and tender, and the cranberries make a delicious substitute for the popular zereshk. Barberry, or zereshk, is the small tart berries of a thorny bush that grows only in certain parts of the world, and Iran is one of the main producers of culinary zereshk, that grows in the Khorasan Province in the northeast.
Fresh and dried cranberries are used to trim and flavor this turkey and rice dinner. The turkey is slow cooked in tomato saffron sauce in a Dutch oven. The basic technique is very similar to the chicken that I make for zereshk polo, but instead of zereshk I’ve added fresh tart cranberries. The reason that I came up with this recipe is that zereskh is not readily available in regular supermarkets, but this time of year shiny red fresh cranberries are available in the produce section of just about every neighborhood market.
Sweet tart dried cranberries are used for the cranberry and pistachio polo, also reminiscent of the famous Persian zereshk polo. To give this delicious holiday berry a special flavor and a festive beauty, I’ve sautéed it briefly with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and fried onions. To add an interesting texture and a beautiful contrast in color I’ve added some sliced pistachios, which add just the right touch to this glorious rice.
The following pictures are to illustrate some of the preparation process for this meal. Please see the printable recipe for the detailed instructions:
Add the skinless, bone-in turkey thighs, onion halves, salt, pepper, ground turmeric, and water to a 5-6 Qt Dutch oven. The heavy cast iron construction and tight lid of the Dutch oven delivers the best results, but you could use another heavy bottomed pot if needed. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat and skim the foam from the surface. Reduce the heat to the mark between low and medium low, cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Turn the thighs and cook the other side for another hour, or until the meat is fork tender but still holds its shape. With the meat side up, sprinkle some optional ground saffron powder on the thighs, and rub it on the entire surface with the back of a spoon (this gives a great color to the turkey without using too much saffron).
Meanwhile thinly slice and fry 2 medium onions in 2-3 tablespoons of oil to golden brown, divide in half (you will be using half of this for the turkey and the other half for the rice); set it aside.
To make the rice, follow the instructions according to my Persian steamed rice post. I have used potato tahdig in this recipe but you could select your choice of tahdig. Thin slices of potatoes are sprinkled with ground saffron powder.
Toss the sliced potatoes with ground saffron powder and 1 TBSP water until all the slices are coated and yellow in color. Heat oils in the nonstick rice pot and arrange the potatoes as shown in the picture. Use a spatula to transfer the par cooked rice over the potatoes. Sprinkle a small amount of optional ground saffron powder between the layers of rice, if you wish. Steam the rice for 45 minutes to an hour until the tahdig is crispy and golden. Meanwhile add the dried cranberries to the reserved fried onions with a pinch of ground saffron powder and 1/2 tsp lemon juice and toss over low heat for 2-3 minutes until the cranberries are soft and bright red in color. Push the cranberry mixture aside and add the sliced pistachios and toss briefly to coat with the oil in the skillet.
To serve, add 1/3 of the steamed rice to the serving platter, add 1/3 of the cranberry mixture. Repeat this 2 more times until all the rice is finished, and the top layer is cranberry mixture. Sprinkle sliced pistachios on top for color and texture.
Invert the crispy potato tahdig onto another serving platter
Transfer the turkey and broth from the stockpot to a serving dish with sides
Turkey with Cranberry rice is served with all its beauty, and enchanting flavors and textures. Have your guests help themselves to the rice; top it with some of the turkey and rich saffron broth, and don’t forget to offer some of the tahdig (if there is any left at this point) to everyone. Enjoy this dish for your holidays, or anytime of year! Cheers and joy to all!
Prep time: 20 minutes
Combined cooking time: 2½ - 3 hours
- For the Turkey:
- 2 large skinless, bone-in turkey thighs (about 3 ½ - 4 pounds)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ¾ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 2 cups cold water
- 1/16 tsp ground saffron powder (optional)
- 2 medium yellow onions, peeled, sliced thin and fried until golden brown (divided, ½ for turkey, ½ for the rice)
- 2-3 TBSP vegetable oil for frying the onions
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ cups fresh, or frozen cranberries
- For the Cranberry Polo:
- 3 cups uncooked basmati rice (recipe for steamed rice HERE)
- Half of the fried onions
- 1 cup dried cranberries, rinse under cold water and drain completely
- A pinch of ground saffron powder
- ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup sliced or chopped pistachios
- For the Potato Tahdig:
- 1 ½ - 2 medium white potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin (I used a chips cutter)
- 1/16 tsp ground saffron powder (optional)
- 1 TBSP water
- 3 TBSP vegetable oil
- 2 TBSP butter
- A light sprinkle of kosher salt
- Optional: Extra ground saffron, to sprinkle between the layers of rice
- Add the skinless turkey thighs, onion halves, ground turmeric, ground pepper, salt and water to a 5-6 Qt. Dutch oven, or another heavy bottomed pot with a tight lid. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim the foam from the top.
- Reduce the heat to between low and medium low; cover the pot and cook for 1 hour. Turn the thighs and continue cooking for 1 more hour, or until the meat is completely tender but still holds its shape. Discard the onion halves.
- Meanwhile in a large skillet fry the sliced onions in 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil until golden brown. Reserve half of the fried onions for the rice.
- Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the rest of the fried onions and sauté over medium low for couple of minutes until aromatic; mix into the broth that turkey is cooking in.
- Sprinkle 1/16 teaspoon saffron (optional) on the meat side of the thighs and use the back of a spoon to rub it all over the tops until evenly covered. This simple technique gives a good color to the thighs without using a lot of precious saffron.
- Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 ½ cups fresh (or frozen) cranberries to the broth. Cover the pot and simmer over the mark between low and medium low for 30 minutes (the cranberries will pop over higher heat and the presentation will not be as pretty). Open the lid 3-4 times and baste the top of the turkey thighs with the broth to give the meat a rich golden brown glazed look.
- To make the tahdig: Sprinkle the sliced potatoes with ground saffron powder, add 1 tablespoon water, and stir to coat all the slices.
- Heat the oils until sizzling.Turn the heat off. Starting from the outer edge of the pot, arrange the saffron potato slices. with each slice overlapping the previous one half way (see the picture). Continue until the bottom of the pot is covered. Use a rubber spatula and scrape all the saffron and water and drizzle over the potato slices.
- Lightly sprinkle the potatoes with kosher salt. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to add the rice over the potatoes; sprinkle a pinch of ground saffron powder in between the layers if you wish. Cover the lid with damkesh and steam over medium low for 45 minutes to one hour, or until steam rises and the potato tahdig is golden and crispy.
- Prepare the cranberry/onion mixture: Saute the reserved fried onions, dried cranberries, pinch of optional saffron, and ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice in a medium skillet, over low heat, until the cranberries are glistening and bright red.
- In the same skillet, push the cranberry/fried onion mixture to the side and add the pistachios and sauté briefly, just until coated with oil.
- To assemble the Cranberry Polo: Use a spatula to transfer ⅓ steamed rice to the serving platter. Sprinkle ⅓ of the cranberry/fried onion mixture over the rice, and repeat until both are finished with the top layer being the cranberry/fried onion mixture. Sprinkle the pistachios on top.
- Invert the crispy golden potato tahdig onto another platter.
- Serve the turkey and broth in a deep serving dish and have your guests help themselves to the rice and top it with turkey and some of the broth.