In a medium saucepan bring water, uncooked rice, and the 1/2 teaspoon salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with the salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet cook onion in hot oil until tender. Add chicken and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until no pink remains. Transfer chicken and onion to a bowl; set aside.
In the same skillet melt the margarine or butter over medium heat. Press half of the cooked rice evenly in skillet using the back of a greased spoon. Cook, uncovered, without stirring, for 8 minutes or until brown and crispy on bottom.
Meanwhile, add remaining cooked rice, the 1-1/3 cups cherries, and the sugar to the chicken mixture; toss to combine. Spread mixture over top of the rice. Dissolve saffron or turmeric in hot water; drizzle the saffron or turmeric mixture over top. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until heated through.
Carefully invert onto a serving plater. Sprinkle nuts on top before serving. Garnish with chives and additional tart cherries, if desired. Makes 6 main-dish servings.