The Persian Salmon That Knocked the Socks Off My Norwegian In-Laws

When I first moved to the U.S., I settled in Seattle with my husband’s parents, and one of the foods that always seemed appetizing to me was the pink salmon that his mom used to buy. One day, we had my husband’s grandparents over for dinner and had a side of salmon to cook, so I offered to make it with a Persian twist: topped with walnuts and barberries.

Weeknight salmon gains nuance from rich walnuts and tart barberries. Photo by James Ransom

When I took the beautiful side of salmon out of the fridge, I immediately knew how I wanted to serve it: I brushed it with some extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled on salt, freshly ground black pepper, and turmeric. (Turmeric gives a bit of warmth to the salmon, as if it opens the door for Persian flavors to march in.)

Then, as the salmon was baking in the oven, I made my family’s favorite stuffing for fish by sauteing onion and green bell pepper in some olive oil, then adding walnuts and barberries, finishing with pomegranate molasses to add a layer of tartness to the dish. (Pomegranate molasses is made from reducing pomegranate juice, with or without sugar, into a thick syrup. I personally prefer pomegranate molasses that doesn’t contain sugar, as it has a more sour taste and can be adjusted easily.)

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Once the salmon was cooked, I topped it with this flavorful barberry-walnut concoction and served with a salad and oven-roasted potatoes. After dinner, Kyle’s grandfather, Jim, told me that this was the best salmon he had ever had. And he’s of Norwegian ancestry! We kept having salmon with walnuts and barberries for as long as we lived in Seattle (until my husband and I moved to Boston), and when I go back, I make the same dish for them.

Months later, when I was approached by Harvard University to hold a cooking demonstration for some academics, I immediately knew that this salmon dinner was going to be on the menu: It’s easy to prepare, and familiar, yet has that new twist that gives the fish intrigue. In my demonstration, I had everyone taste barberries and pomegranate molasses, since they’re both ingredients that are not very common in every household. I could see some skeptical faces. But in the end, everyone loved my Persian-scented salmon and asked for seconds.

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Top Comment:
“The office went wild over this salmon, Shadi. Confession: I stole that bowl of barberries and walnuts and ate it with a spoon. LUNCH, done.”
— Eric K.

The tart pomegranate molasses and barberries at once elevate the buttery salmon and help to balance its richness. If you can find them, these two pantry ingredients—pantry ingredients in my Persian kitchen, at least—will make your ordinary weeknight fish dinner much more exciting. You can find barberries and pomegranate molasses in some supermarkets now, but you could always go to your local specialty Persian shop or Amazon them. Being an Iranian, I always carry my tart, juicy barberries with me at all times.

If for any reason you still can’t source these ingredients, you can substitute chopped, unsweetened cranberries for the barberries and some lemon juice for the pomegranate molasses. Even though these substitutes don’t deliver the original flavor, they’re still good options for elevating your usual salmon dinner.

What's your favorite way to eat salmon? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • lloreen
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    Adrianna Dinihanian
  • Robin Donovan
    Robin Donovan
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
  • Fariba
Shadi HasanzadeNemati is a food writer and recipe developer at Unicorns in the Kitchen. She loves a good tahdig and her favorite spice is saffron.


lloreen September 30, 2018
I'm having trouble finding pomegranate molasses without sugar. Can you recommend a brand I might find online?
Ana D. July 5, 2020
Molasses is sugar. So you might want to omit this if you don’t want the sugar.
Adrianna D. June 15, 2018
Oops! Didn't read it all the way through...I'll substitute dried cranberries
Eric K. June 16, 2018
Good idea.
Shadi H. June 16, 2018
Yes, cranberries would be fine as well :)
Adrianna D. June 15, 2018
What are barberries? Is there a substitute?
Robin D. June 15, 2018
This looks so good! I am allergic to walnuts. What would you recommend as a substitute (most other nuts are fine)?
Shadi H. June 16, 2018
Hi Robin! I would say pine nuts would work well!
Eric K. June 13, 2018
The office went wild over this salmon, Shadi. Confession: I stole that bowl of barberries and walnuts and ate it with a spoon. LUNCH, done.
Fariba June 13, 2018
Loved it Shadi Joon. Looks delicious 😋
Shadi H. June 14, 2018
Thank you so much Fariba Jan <3