It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the sunrays were splashing all over the inside of our kitchen. This beautiful scene inspired my craving for something rich and yellow, and before I knew it I was behind the stove boiling rice. You may ask why I was willing to boil rice during the heat of the day, but I knew the end result would be one of my favorite chilled desserts called Sholeh Zard.
Sholeh Zard, a traditional Persian delicacy, was my grandmother’s most favorite dessert and I have come to share her love for it as I have grown older. What makes this rice pudding so unique and undeniably popular is the rich taste of saffron spice. Saffron, one of the most precious and most expensive spices in the world, is grown primarily in India, Spain and Iran. Since my family conveniently keeps a year-round stock of imported saffron (powdered and dissolved) in the house, it was easy to gather up the supplies I needed to turn my craving into something quite tangible, in just under 3 hours.
The following recipe is no secret. Sholeh Zard is made many different ways; however my family and I choose to prepare it in the traditional, simple form. Don’t let the time behind the hot stove deter you from making this during summer. A bonus for enduring the heat and watching over the pudding will be a nice, steamy facial. All kidding aside, I believe you’ll find this experiment with saffron to be quite rewarding as the flavor is unlike most desserts you may have had in the past. You will have a new appreciation for the mother of all spices after you try the famous Sholeh Zard.
Recipe by Nahal Lovessert
Yield: 6-8 Servings
1 cup short grain rice (favorite brand: Nasim)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup corn oil
½ cup rose water
2 teaspoons ground saffron
Optional (for garnish):
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 tablespoons ground pistachios
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1) Wash 1 cup of short grain rice. Rinse and drain the rice several times until the water runs clear. Add the rice to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
2) Add 7-8 cups of water into the pot of rice and partially cover with a lid. Bring the rice to a boil over medium heat, occasionally skimming the foam off the top.
3) Once your rice is soft and boiling (approximately 30 minutes), add 1 cup of sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Add an additional 2 cups of water and stir to combine. Keep the rice partially covered and continue to cook over a medium-low heat for approximately 20 more minutes. Stir occasionally.
4) Gather ¼ cup of corn oil, ½ cup of rose water, and 2 teaspoons of dissolved ground saffron threads. Pour this into the rice and stir thoroughly to combine (and watch all the flavors dance with one another!) Continue to cook, partially-covered, for another 20 minutes over low heat.
5) Remove the lid and stir well. The mixture should start to look like a thick pudding-like cream; all the water should be boiled out at this point. Feel free to add more saffron to taste*. The more saffron you add the richer the flavor and color of the pudding will be.
6) Stir the ingredients well and continue cooking over medium-low heat until a pudding-like texture develops (approximately 30 minutes).
7) Once thickened, remove the pot from the stove and pour the Sholeh Zard into a large, shallow plate and let it cool for 30 minutes at room temperature**. Once the top has dried into a thin, yet hard, layer you can decorate with cinnamon and pistachios! Place the plate in the refrigerator and continue chilling until the pudding has transformed into a jello-like consistency.
*Optional Mix-in: You may add slivered almonds at this point if you choose.
**Optional serving styles: The pudding also tastes great warm (right after it’s done cooking). For a stiffer pudding you can also bake it in a muffin pan after removing it from the stove. Spray the muffin pan with non-stick baking spray and bake at 350ºF for 30-40 minutes.
You may now serve the tastiest Sholeh Zard to your guests. I always like to serve mine with a nice cup of tea. Enjoy!