"The restaurant where this pilaf is served has been in existence since 1923. It is a Bombay landmark," Madhur Jaffrey writes in Vegetarian India. "The berry used here is the tiny Iranian barberry, or zareshk, sold by Indian and Persian grocers. If you cannot find it, use dried cranberries. The final flavours are sweet and sour."

Start to finish: 4 hours (30 minutes active)

Servings: 6

2 cups basmati rice
1 tsp saffron threads
3 Tbsp sugar, divided
3 Tbsp very hot milk
About 1/2 cup barberries or dried cranberries
3 Tbsp olive or peanut oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved lengthwise, then sliced into fine half-rings
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
5 cardamom pods
2 1/2-inch cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
3 cloves
3 Tbsp butter, melted


Wash the rice in several changes of water. Put in a bowl, cover generously with water, then set aside to soak for 3 hours. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, combine the saffron and 1 Tbsp of the sugar. Pound together to create a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl, then stir in the hot milk. Set aside for 3 hours.

Toward the end of the 3 hours, rinse the berries several times, then soak in water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry. In a medium pan over medium-high, heat the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until they start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until they are reddish brown.

Add the drained berries and the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir once or twice, then remove from the heat. Heat the oven to 170C. Bring about 10 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and cloves. Stir once, then add the rice. Cook in the boiling water for about 5 minutes, or until it is three-quarters cooked but still has a thin, hard core. Drain in a colander.

Working quickly, spread 1 Tbsp of the melted butter in a medium baking dish. Spread half the rice over it. Spread another Tbsp of the butter, plus half the saffron mixture and half the onion-berry mixture and some of its oil on top of the rice. Spread the remaining rice on top of the first layer. Pour the remaining Tbsp of butter over it, followed by the remaining saffron mixture and onion-berry mixture. Cover tightly with foil and a lid and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Toss the rice gently to mix before serving.

Adapted from Vegetarian India, by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf US$29)