1Stuff the hens with the whole onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Add a few drops of the saffron water and cook in a covered baking dish in a 350°F oven for 2 hours.
2Drain the cherries. Place cherries and sugar in a saucepan. Cook for 35 minutes over high heat. Strain the cherries over a bowl until no syrup remains. Save the syrup. Add 2 tablespoons butter, and cinnamon to the cherries and set aside.
3Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.
4Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen grains stuck together. Bite a few grains. If the rice is soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse with 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.
5In the same pot, place 4 tablespoons oil, 1/2 cup water, and 1 tablespoon saffron water on a layer of lavash bread so that it sits evenly over the bottom of the pot to help make a golden crust (tah dig).
6Place 2 spatulas of rice in the pot, then add 1 spatula of cherries. Do not add syrup. Set aside 2 spatulas of cherries for garnish.
7Repeat, alternating layers of rice and cherries in the shape of a pyramid.
8Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. This will help form a golden crust on the bottom of the pan. Pour the saffron water over the pyramid and reduce the heat.
9Place a clean dish towel or 2 layers of paper towels over the pot; cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook 40 minutes longer over low heat. Remove the lid and pour a mixture of 1/2 cup of cherry syrup and 1/4 cup of melted butter over the rice. Cook for another 10 minutes.
10Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. Take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside with the rest of the garnish.
11Gently taking 1 spatula at a time, place the rice on a platter without disturbing the crust on the bottom of the pot. Place the hens or chicken around the rice. Mound rice in the shape of a pyramid. Garnish with the saffron rice, cherries, almonds, and pistachios. Pour 1/4 cup hot cherry syrup and 2 tablespoons melted butter over the rice pyramid. Detach crust from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula and serve on the side. Nush-e Jan!
Variation: You may substitute meatballs for the chicken. In a bowl, combine 1 pound ground meat with one grated onion. Add salt and pepper, and knead well to form into tiny balls the size of hazelnuts. Brown in a skillet in 2 tablespoons oil. Add 2 tablespoons sour cherry syrup to it and set aside. In steps 7 and 8, add the meatballs, 1 spatula at a time, along with the cherries and rice.
Note: In the US, sour cherries are often called tart cherries. If using fresh or frozen sour cherries, add 1/2 cup of sugar to each pound of cherries. Cook over high heat for 35 minutes, then drain. If using dried sour cherries, add 2 tablespoons butter and cup [sic] sour cherry syrup and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. If using sour cherries in light syrup, drain and discard syrup. Add 1 cup sugar, boil over medium heat for 30 minutes, drain and save the syrup. If using sour cherries in heavy syrup, do not add sugar. Do not cook the sour cherries; just add 1/2 cup hot water to the cherries to dilute the syrup, then drain them for further use, because the syrup is too sweet to use on its own.