Persian Saffron Rice Pudding, or Sholeh Zard, is rice pudding like you’ve never had before. Elegant and exquisite, it’s infused with saffron, cardamom and rose water. Then, on top of that most delicious of flavour combination, comes the garnish, in the form of cinnamon, pistachios, almonds and roses. This is romance in a bowl.
Unlike traditional rice pudding like kheer and Shir Berenj, there is no milk or cream in the Persian saffron rice pudding, but despite this, sholeh zard is still creamy, because the rice is cooked until it is falling apart and starchy. And the small amount of optional butter adds to that effect.
History of Persian Saffron Rice Pudding
Sholeh Zard is a recipe that goes back hundreds of years, and was always cooked on special occasions like:
- Nowruz, the Persian New Year (click to read more)
- Ramadan – the Muslim holy month of fasting
- Tirgan and Shabe Yalda – mid summer and mid winter festivals
The Persian Saffron Rice Pudding is also considered food for Nazr, or Nazri food. Nazr is the distribution of free food, whether to the poor or even just to one’s neighbours. I remember my family doing a lot of that, and it’s a habit I still practise. I love to share “special foods” with my friends and neighbours, especially during Ramadan. The oval shaped white bowl you see in the images was given to my neighbours, a half Iranian family.
What does Sholeh Zard (شله زرد) Mean?
The recipe name, Sholeh Zard (شله زرد), means yellow pudding, in Farsi, the Iranian language. The word sholeh, in Farsi, in this context, refers to the texture, soft and pudding-like. Zard simply means yellow, in Farsi.
How to Cook Persian Saffron Rice Pudding
It can’t be any simpler.
- Boil the rice until it falls apart
- Add all the sugar, saffron, butter and cardamom
- Serve into individual dishes and chill
- Garnish and eat up!
Vegan Persian Saffron Rice Pudding
Just omit the butter from the recipe, and you’ve got yourself a Vegan Sholeh Zard. There is no need to replace it with any fat; many don’t add any fat to their saffron rice pudding.
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding Ingredients
Saffron is the key ingredient in making Sholeh Zard. Liquid gold is an apt description, and we all know that it’s the most expensive spice in the world. So, get the best that you can afford and make sure it’s not stale. You want the colour, the flavour and the aroma.
I’ll never forget coming home from Morocco with quite a bit of saffron, only to discover that it wasn’t as potent as I’d thought. Money down the drain and a trip to Waitrose!
If you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that in Persian cooking, we convert saffron into liquid saffron, before using in a recipe. This is done by:
- pounding the saffron with a pinch of sugar or salt (depending on the recipe)
- adding hot water to the saffron
Rice for Sholeh Zard
A proper Persian saffron rice pudding’s texture is soft with no chewy bite to it. And to me, the best rice for this is shortgrain rice sold for the purpose of making rice pudding. Here in the UK, it is called pudding rice, like this. Not basmati, not jasmine rice. You can use them, but you’ll be spending 30-60 minutes more cooking it down.
When I make regular rice pudding, I prefer to use risotto rice, because I like my rice pudding to have a bite. So I use risotto rice when cooking the other Persian rice pudding known as Shir Berenj, and my 2 “funky rice puddings” Mocha Risotto and Raspberry and White Chocolate Risotto.
I wouldn’t recommend sticky rice or sushi rice, they are too starchy and will produce the wrong sort of gloop!
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding Garnish
As you can see from the images, the Persian Saffron Rice Pudding is traditionally garnished with nuts, ground cinnamon and rose petals. The decorating of sholeh zard is the fun part! I have seen some very elaborate decorations, from flowers to Arabic calligraphy. Simply amazing!
You can be as imaginative or as conservative as you like! Just scatter some almond flakes and a pinch of cinnamon, if that’s all that you have or can get. Just remember that you are going to be eating that pudding afterwards, so maybe go easy on the sprinkles?
I also like to use edible silver or gold leaf, as in the image above. Edible gold and silver was a very common rice pudding decoration when I was growing up.
Seen enough pictures? Let’s get our aprons on then!
More Middle Eastern Desserts on LinsFood
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Persian Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard)
- 200 g short grain rice but not risotto rice
- 1.75 litres water
- 400 g white sugar
- 30 g salted butter
- 2 Tbsp liquid saffron made with a generous pinch of saffron
- ground seeds of 4 cardamoms
- 4 Tbsp rose water
- Rinse the rice a couple of times and drain.
- Place the rice in a large saucepan, along with all the water, and bring to a boil on high heat.
- When the rice is boiling, give it a quick stir, and reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, if using pudding rice. If using long grain rice, give it another 30 minutes.
- Add the sugar, stir to mix, then follow with the butter, saffron and cardamom. Bring back to a boil on medium heat.
- When boiling, reduce the heat to low, stir once, then simmer for 10 minutes.
- At the end of the 10 minutes, turn the heat off, remove from the hot stove and stir in the rose water.
- Serve into serving dishes, leave to cool slightly for 10 minutes, then cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours, and up to 2 days. The pudding will thicken as it cools.
- When you are ready to serve, garnish/decorate as you wish.