Sumac Spiced Salmon with Barberry Saffron Rice

If you fancy a taste of the middle east without the complications, then I suggest you try this simple roast salmon recipe with sumac and lime. Complement this with a barberry rice or a shirazi salad (for those on keto).

The key ingredients for the salmon spice rub are sumac, lime salt, orange zest, cumin, cinnamon and a crack of black pepper. First, what is sumac and what does it taste like? Sumac is a dark red spice widely used throughout the Arabic world and along the Mediterranean coast. In terms of flavour profile, it releases a subtle citrus infusion over the food it touches. Interestingly, it might surprise you to learn that this dry red powder isn’t a true spice. Rather, it gets harvested from the fruit of the sumac, or sumach flower, a member of the cashew family.

Nonetheless, it is handy to have this spice in your kitchen cupboard given its citrusy and acidic quality. Sprinkle it over fresh greens, a cucumber salad, grilled chicken or bread. Personally, I like to use it for chicken and fish (hence this salmon dish!). For more reasons why you should have sumac at your disposal, read here.

As for the barberry rice, this is called zereshk polo in Persian speak.  Barberries (zereshk) are sour red berries (akin to a smaller version of cranberries) and come from a shrub which is native to parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. Barberries are well known for their medicianl properties, and are said to have anti-cancer fighting compounds and help alleviate diabetes (more health benefits can be found here).

To balance off the sourness, it is common practice to add sugar to the cooking process. Here, I like to add butter to plump up the berries, along with some flaked almonds (for the extra crunch), the sugar, and some shavings of orange zest for an additional citrus twist.  To prepare the barberries, simply soak in water at room temperature for 5-6 minutes, then drain.

As for the polo, the rice, Persians love it fluffy and soft. This is one of the mixed rice dishes that you will find at small casual get togethers, as well as larger Persian dinner parties, weddings and most festive celebrations and holidays. There are many variations as to how to cook the polo (with many Persians fancying the crunchy tahdig). Some prefer to layer the zershk while steaming the rice (to release the barberry flavours). This, however, causes the barberries to turn from a bright red colour to a dull brownish hue. I therefore prefer layering the barberries on top of the cooked rice last (as I care a lot about aesthetics).  Also, I like to personally add a hint of rosewater when finishing off the rice as I simply love the rosewater aroma.

Sumac Spiced Salmon with Barberry Rice



  • 2 pieces of salmon (~200g each)
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon of lime salt (or lime zest + salt if you don’t have)
  • 1 teaspoon of rosewater (or 1 tablespoon of crushed rose petals)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Rose petals, for garnish (optional)

Zereshk polo

  • 1/2 cup of basmati rice (soak for 30 minutes and drain)
  • 1/4 cup of barberries
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of rosewater
  • 2 tablespoons of sliced/flaked almonds or pistachios (for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil
  • Salt, when boiling water for rice


  1. Preheat oven to 200C if fan forced. Wash salmon and pat dry with paper towel.
  2. Bloom the saffron. You can release the bright orange colour of saffron by ‘blooming’ it over an ice cube (after grinding it in a mortar and pestle). Just let it rest on the ice cube until it dissolves.
  3. Prepare spice rub for salmon. Mix together olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, lime salt, pepper, orange zest and rose water (or crushed rose petal if using). Coat mixture over the salmon.
  4. Prepare barberries. Soak barberries in water for 5-6 minutes to remove debris and drain.
  5. Heat a heavy based pot on medium-high heat and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it comes to a rolling boil generously add salt. Add the rice and let it cook for 5-6 minutes (depends on brand of rice) before draining in a colander and running tap water over it to stop it from overcooking and to wash off the excess salt. Basically, you want the rice to be par-cooked and you know you have achieved this when the rice is soft around the edges but still firm (not crunch) in the center.
  6. Remove water from the rice pot and add a dollop of olive oil and turn on stove to medium low heat. Put the rice back into the pot and cover the pot with a lid, add some orange zest, a teaspoon of rosewater and place a tea towel (or paper towels) in between the pot and lid to absorb the excess steam. Cook for ~30 minutes on low heat. During the last minute or so, add half the saffron water on top of the rice. Alternatively, you could spoon a few tablespoons of rice into a separate bowl and mix with the saffron water for the colour, then layer this on top of the white rice when serving.
  7. Put salmon into preheated oven in meantime. Depending on thickness of the salmon, it should take roughly 10-12 minutes to cook. Remove from oven once done and let it rest for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Make the zereshk in the meantime. Heat a separate frying pan on medium heat and add the butter, barberries, sugar, remaining half of the (bloomed) saffron water, and hint of rose water. Stir gently then after a minute, add the sliced almonds. The barberries will plump up over time (few minutes). Be careful not to turn heat on too high or else the berries will burn. Remove from heat once berries are plump.
  9. Remove rice from the pot and layer it on a plate with the saffron rice. Layer the cooked barberry mixture on top and garnish with more almonds or pistachios if desired. Serve alongside the salmon.

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