Saffron Rice-Pudding in the Persian Manner, Sholeh Zard

sholeh zard

A Mellow Yellow Fever

In his memoirs; the Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, Mughal Emperor Jahangir expresses his desire to visit Pampore, Kashmir, to see the land where the fields turn amethyst in the Autumn, when the saffron crocus sativus is ready for harvesting. It is from this flower that delicate hands nimbly extract three crimson-hued stigmas, also known as “Red Gold”; the most dear spice in the world. A spice which was once known to be worth its weight in gold.

saffron harvesting in Pampore, Kashmir

Once the croci are hand-picked, the garnet-coloured stigmas are separated from the yellow stamens. It is an intricate job done by women, with approximately 4,000 croci yielding a mere 1 oz of saffron filaments. Half a kilo of saffron comes from 70-250 000 croci.

Zafferano, kesar, krokos, azafrán, zaafran are all words for saffron. Today saffron can be bought for $9/g. It is produced in Iran, Spain, Italy, Kashmir, Turkey and Greece. I find saffron to be particularly fascinating as it is one of the very rare spices which appeals to our three senses; sight- with its vermilion juice; smell- a musky, smoky aroma; and taste- the pungency elevating the base of any dish without being cloying.

In the case of saffron, a light-handed approach is good, which is not only easy on the pocket but also because you don’t want your dish to be garish or any of the flavours to be masked. Rather, they should be intensified and deepened.

A mellow yellow approach is best.

Rowley Leigh, one of my favourite chefs, says, “Saffron is merely one of the pigments in a complex aromatic picture.” When I think of saffron I imagine a flaky, oily fish poached in saffron-infused coconut milk; a slice of warm toast with butter, washed down with a glass of milk, dyed yellow with a drop of saffron and honey; or Pierre Hermé‘s saffron-scented peach and apricot macarons. Just a few drops of saffron’s golden water and it sends an intense current of flavour through any drink or dish.

Now that I have extolled the virtues of saffron, I must come to a rather sad story about my childhood; Ami, my mother, did not and does not like saffron. She thinks it tastes like metallic medicine and “…eclipses the flavour of a perfectly perfumed dish”. I was not brought up on saffron-fragranced polows at home. I only came to know and love saffron in my father’s ancestral home in Lahore.

My paternal grandmother, known affectionately by everyone as Mader; mother in Dari, adored saffron. She liked the way saffron, or zaafran, in Dari and Urdu, extended the flavour of her dishes with its honey-like notes.

A mother- and daughter-in-law disagreeing on the inclusion of a spice?

A grave matter. Relationships can be destroyed over such an issue in our part of the world. But Ami and Mader, like true adults, looked beyond this. They were family, after all.

Besides, Mader used zaafran primarily for a dish known as Sholeh Zard, for Nazri; a religious vow of offerings of charity food to the needy. How could my mother dispute that? In our home this was done during the month of Ramadan. Mader, a chic and modern lady for her time with no religious predilictions (no correlation between chicness and her lack of interest in religion, just stating things as they were), distributed a dish called Sholeh Zard to the needy during Ramadan.

Sholeh Zard is a creamy rice pudding infused with saffron, rose water, cardamom and cinnamon. Almonds are added to it for textural crunch and pistachios for adornment. Saffron, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, butter, rice, almonds, pistachios, all the very good things in life, in one dish. Yes, it takes cholesterol highs to a new level, but who can refuse such deliciousness? As the saffron water is added to the rice, I love watching the colour bleed slowly into it, a transformation from white to gold.

Lastly, before you purchase saffron, please remember that there are lots of saffron impostors out there- beware of saffron powder, always buy saffron strands and pulverise them yourself. Those of you who have been to markets in exotic destinations may have come across orange-hued or brick-red saffron counterfeits – they contain turmeric, shredded marigolds, or the addition of molasses. There is a fantastic company in San Francisco called Vanilla, Saffron Imports, who sell saffron and have a website for instructions on what to look for when purchasing saffron. They also sell it there for approximately $9/gr.

A few cooking notes:

  • This is a milk-free rice pudding.
  • Half a cup of rice may seem too little, but since this is a rich pudding, all you need is a few spoons per person. If you would like more, just double the recipe.
  • The rice will look mushy after it has been simmered for the first 30 minutes, a bit like this:
  • I prefer less sugar in my puddings, so I have used only 1/2 cup. Feel free to use 1 whole cup.
  • I have added whole saffron strands to the pulverised mix solely for visual effect.
  • I find rose water to be very strong, but feel free to use a few more tablespoons if you like. Even though this pudding is traditionally made with rosewater, if you can’t source it, no worries, the dish has a lot of aroma because of the presence of cardamom, cinnamon and the saffron.
  • The rice must always be cooked on the lowest heat possible, otherwise it could burn very easily; keep stirring gently and continuously.
  • The pudding will be firm and almost tacky when done, some people like to place it in muffin tins and then bake for 30 minutes on 350F/180C.

It’s lovely to have a husband who has a sweet tooth.

Pampore, Kashmir saffron fields photo credit: Waseem Andrabi

Serves 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 1 hour for rice to soak

Active Time: 1 ½ hour

*½ cup Basmati rice
*1 + ½ tsp saffron strands
*4 cups cold water
*½ cup sugar
*1 cup hot water
*4 tbsp unsalted butter
*¼ cup rose water
*3 cardamom pods; seeds extracted, pods discarded
*1 cinnamon stick
*¼ cup slivered almonds
*handful slivered pistachios for adornment
*cinnamon powder for adornment
*A heavy-bottomed pan, minimum 8 in diameter

*Wash the Basmati in cold water 6 times till the milky water begins to run clear and soak for 1 hour;
*In the meanwhile, take 1 tsp of the saffron threads and crush with a pestle & mortar or back of a spoon in a small bowl;
*To this mixture, add ½ tsp of whole threads and 1 tbsp of warm water. Set aside;
*Add the Basmati to a pot with 4 cups of cold water on the lowest heat;
*Let the Basmati simmer for 30 minutes till you see it has cooked and moistened and the water has almost evaporated;
*To the moistened rice, add sugar mixed in hot water, rose water, butter, a cinnamon stick, almonds, cardamom seeds and the saffron infused liquid and stir gently;
*Cover and let cook for another 20 minutes;
*You will have to stir it occasionally, but gently, to ensure the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pot;
*Uncover the lid and cook for another 20 minutes;
*Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and ladle pudding into 4 individual cups;
*Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight; and
*Serve with a sprinkling of powdered cinnamon and slivers of pistachios.

Share

Comments

  1. Oh, how I love to read your posts. I do so somewhat guiltily, knowing that I will likely as not never follow the recipes, at least not in this stage of my life with two fussy young children, a husband who would certainly like the food but not appreciate the time and care it took to make it, and an aversion to my real-life kitchen and cooking duties.
    This blog is part of my fantasy life where I get to cook beautiful tasty dishes that never put on an ounce in my perfectly equipped, pristine kitchen that does not have small cars that I am about to skid over and kill myself upon.
    I am also wearing something exquisite with high heels and I have just written a Nobel prize winning novel.

    Please keep them coming!

  2. Haven’t had a chance until now to congratulate you on your new site which is just so yumliciously gorgeous. The recipes and photos are fantastic and I have given the site address to all my food loving friends and relations.
    In addition to the above, I just love reading the stories about the origins of the various spices and ingredients. Knowing that all your recipes also are handed down from your Mother, Grandmother and more, makes them even more special.
    When I worked in banking, many years ago, I had the good fortune to spend some time in Karachi and loved it. One evening we were invited to dine at the apartment of one of the senior bank managers, overlooking the Arabian Sea. I will never forget either the food or the amazing view; all my romantic fantasies came true!

    Looking forward to the book after this!
    xx

  3. You write very well. Will definitely “attempt” to cook the kadai chicken :) . The pictures are very tasteful and blend into the written prose

  4. My mother makes Norwegian rice pudding with cardamom, my favorite thing since childhood. But I have a feeling your rice pudding may indeed take the biscuit. I shall make it this weekend.

    And the recipe is presented so beautifully – bravo to the photographer.

    Miss W x

  5. oh my, you make everyting look good!

  6. There is nothing like saffron. The flavor and aroma of it are unique and lovely things. And, your rice pudding looks delicious!

  7. This sholeh zard looks delicious! Love your blog. keep up the good work.

  8. raya alcadi says:

    I am amazed. Speechless. That’s the best website on cuisine ever! Really inspiring.

  9. @Mothership @Miss Whistle @Raya @lisaiscooking @Fati @A Prabhu Thanks for making my morning- most grateful for your comments.

    @DeeGF How lovely that you got to visit Pakistan-as you know, the state of affairs are rather sad there at the moment. It’s wonderful to hear non-Pakistanis say positive things about our country. Sadly, such words are rarely said these days. Thank you for your compliments.

    @Azita Enjoy your Persian recipe blog very much, too. Thank you.

  10. This recipe is making my mouth water! I love rice pudding, saffron, and cinnamon. Do you think it would work with brown rice?

    • @small kitch cara Hi Cara, Thank you so much. If you use brown rice, I suspect you would have to alter the cooking times. However, I am not sure if it would work with brown rice, because since this is a milk-free pudding, we rely on the creaminess and tackiness of the white rice itself. But please do let me know how it goes if you decide on using brown rice, would love to hear about your experience.

  11. Hi Shayma
    Welcome to blogging! Thank you for the comment you left on my Paul A Young post – how did you read it so fast, I just this second posted it! :)
    It was a fantastic evening!
    Anyway, thank you very much for reading and happy blogging to you!
    Kavey

  12. @Kavey Thank you so much for visiting my site; the food blogging world is a vast, but friendly one. Thanks for the wishes.

  13. Hi Shayma, Welcome to the blogging sphere! As a big fan of both baltis and khoreshes, I’m most excited to read and learn from you–you are lucky to have such a rich culinary tradition behind you. We’re just learning to love Afghani cooking as well, there is a large Afghan community here and many wonderful restaurants.

    Lovely recipes and photos you have. This pudding is on my to-try list — saffron is a wonderful spice but I also like that this does not use milk.

  14. You write so wonderfully, & so evocatively, the flavours jump off the page. Brava, carissima, brava. Your blog is a triumph. I devour every word (& wish I were also devouring the amazing dishes you post) xxx

  15. What a gorgeous post! I do like a bit of context/historical background in posts, this is excellent stuff. I recently picked up a bag of precisely the sort of doctored saffron you describe in Istanbul’s spice market – I wish I’d read this first….

  16. What a wonderful blog and what a great post! Your sholeh zard looks divine! I really appreciate the research you put into it. I’ll be visiting frequently :)

  17. Great post and great research your personal story is a nice touch!

    I to love saffron, but I’ve never thought of using it in rice pudding – thats a great idea.

  18. Hi Shayma,

    With my mouth watering, I’m headed to the kitchen to try this lovely saffron rice-pudding. Having always had a very sweet tooth, and not having had “kheer” in a long time, I think I’m just going to pop in the kitchen and try this very delicious dessert.

    Thank you so, very much for creating this lovely website.

  19. hi shayma-am doing my best. now the part when the sugar goes in, is that with rose water? (i assume not hot water).

  20. @Asma Thank you for your most kind comments- hope the dessert turns out good and the kids enjoy it. Much love.

    @Raya You add the rose water to the moistened rice, along with sugar, hot water, butter, a cinnamon stick, almonds, cardamom seeds and the saffron infused liquid.

  21. This looks beautiful. I adore rice pudding and am so intrigued with this. The mix of saffron, rose water and cardamom sounds amazing. Ever since I worked at a Persian restaurant I’ve been obsessed with rosewater. I would never expect to see it in rice pudding. I cannot wait to try this. Thank you!

  22. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!

  23. Hi Shayma, just recently stumbled into your blog via twitter and I’m quite enjoying your personal stories interspersed with the recipes. The photography is very good as well, I think you have an eye for detail.

  24. @Sarah Thank you for visiting my blog. Rosewater is also used in tea in Iran, just a drop of it is all you need.

    @Maninas Thank you for visiting and for mentioning my blog in your latest post. Very kind of you.

    @Kang Thank you. Your restaurant review/photography blog is beautiful. Coming from a fab photographer like you, I am most grateful for your kind words.

  25. Ive have never seen a pudding that looks so exotic and precious…the colour gleams and bounces off the screen like a jewel…I must try this.

  26. You explanation for the dessert makes my mouth water. I usually prepare Chawal ki kheer with coarsely ground rice, milk and sugar. This version sounds heavenly and deliciously exotic. Will definitely try!

  27. @Zurin Thank you. It’s a really simple pudding to make, do let me know how it turns out.

    @Mona Thank you. We have a version with milk, too, called Ferr’ni (same as in Urdu).

  28. I love love love Sholeh Zard! I love the fact that you are combining Persian, Afghani, and Pakistani food. I am looking forward to discovering from our neighboring countries!

  29. This post was so enjoyable to read. I love the introduction and background on saffron and all the careful guidance, step by step. I have had this pudding at Persian restaurants, but I always felt they used too much sugar. I will try it with less and I am sure the difference will be very noticeable. Thankfully, my kids love saffron and cardamom !

  30. @MyPersianKitchen Thanks so much for visiting. I have been told that my grandmother’s father came to Pakistan from Iran, she passed away when I was 16, I wish I could have had her in my life for a longer period. And I would certainly have asked her for more Irani recipes.

    @tasteofbeirut Thank you, I agree, I find it to be too sweet, so I have added less sugar. I always thought I was the strange one who didn’t like it too sweet. Some people think 1/2 c of Basmati is too little- but just a few teaspoons is enough to sweeten your mouth after a savoury dinner, in my humble opinion.

  31. Mmmmh, this is the essence of Middle-East. I love this kind of flavours.
    I saw a photo of Maphrooka and I was astonished: wonderful! I have to do it!
    Maybe you have a Maphrooka recipe?
    Bye and kisses from Italy

  32. I used this recipe more as ‘inspiration’, combined with my own recipe and I loved it! oh, the sweetness of saffron, pistachios, and almonds, itś like paradise on a plate!

  33. Shayma, each of your posts just blow me away every time! Maybe it’s my north african ancestry…but the ingredients/spices you use are just mouth watering and i do not eat enough of them living in the sw of ireland. I am going to try this rice pudding very soon…it looks and sounds positively divine! Imen x

Trackbacks

  1. [...] of both saffron and Sholeh Zard, as well as recipe for how to make it, check out Food & Farsi, The Spice Spoon, or the other sites linked in the photos. (But don’t do it if you’re hungry. Really, I [...]

Speak Your Mind

*