Persian Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard | شله زرد)

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard, in Farsi, is a rice pudding without milk, flavoured with saffron, rose water and cardamom.
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding Sholeh Zard شله زرد different decorations
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard | شله زرد)

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.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding decorated with dried rose buds and rose petals
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding

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.

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding with almonds as flower
Almonds forming a flower

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

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.

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 simply decorated, in a white bowl
Simply decorated, almond flakes forming the “petals”

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding Ingredients

Saffron

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

You can watch my YouTube video on how to make liquid saffron by clicking this link. And click on the image below to read the post on liquid saffron:

Liquid saffron in a small white bowl on black background
Liquid 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 decorated with dried rose buds
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding decorated with dried edible rose buds

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?

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding in espresso cup with Edible Silver
In espresso cup with Edible Silver

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

More Rice Pudding Recipes on LinsFood

If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Merci!

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor.

Lin xx

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard)

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard, in Farsi, is a rice pudding without milk, flavoured with saffron, rose water and cardamom.
4.99 from 121 votes
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Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Persian
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Chilling time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 35 minutes
Servings: 10 (8-10 small servings)
Calories: 248kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor
Cost: £1.70 ($2.20) for the whole recipe, not including the toppings

Ingredients

  • 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

Garnish/Decorations (as many or as little as you want)

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

Prep time includes about 10 minutes given to garnishing the rice pudding.

Nutrition

Calories: 248kcal | Carbohydrates: 55.8g | Protein: 1.3g | Fat: 2.5g | Cholesterol: 6.5mg | Sodium: 19.9mg | Sugar: 39.9g
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
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51 thoughts on “Persian Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard | شله زرد)”

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for this wonderful breakdown of this recipe. It was so easy to follow and everyone loved it both times that I’ve made it.

  2. Wow! Thank you for the recipe and decoration ideas. I’m sure my little grandniece will love it even more than we grown-ups. Golden saffron tasting pudding in a beautiful bowl decorated with rosebuds, pistachios, almonds and gold leaf. Fit for a princess!

  3. 5 stars
    Just loved the way you have presented it Azlin. Looks so good. I could never imagine it is made with rice. When I read your recipe and then, understood it. I am loving this recipe as it looks so delicious and tempting with so minimum ingredients and generally available at home. Must try.

  4. 5 stars
    Initially I thought it is a similar variation of Indian Kheer but this one is totally different.. your whole description of the process and it’s details tempting me to try it for our coming weekend brunch with friends.. I shall soon try it and give you the feedback.. gorgeous clicks Azlin.. wish I could grab a bowl from your pics

  5. DeAnna E Estell

    Ive tried this twice and both times my pudding wont set. it stays liquidy. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi DeAnna, I can only think of 2 reasons:
      1. The type of rice you’re using. What are you using?
      2. The amount of water. Are you following the recipe exactly?
      The pudding also wants to be served cold. Refrigerating it will thicken it further, but as you can see from the video, it thickens even while it’s still fairly warm.
      This is rice pudding, so it doesn’t want to be set like jelly or panna cotta, it just wants to thicken.

  6. 5 stars
    Great page and pics, thanks! I tried this recipe with normal rice but have to say I found it far superior with basmatic rice, it was a little dense and heavy with the normal rice, the basmatic was a lot lighter and more delicate. However, still tasted great!

  7. Susan Khorrami

    Hi, just made this. The bowls are in the fridge now. My Persian in laws are coming for dinner tonight, and this is dessert. It smells wonderful. I have also made 2 of your khoresh and your zereshk polo. Thank you, Azlin, you’re my personal recipe book!

  8. My dear Azlin! I am always learning from you…it’s endless! Thank you! And, I’ll be making this dish…I know it won’t be precisely as divine as yours, but, nonetheless, a little taste of the liquid gold! xo

  9. I will make it tomorrow, thanks just sound and looks delicious. I would love to try the one with roses. I’ve never actually eat roses.

  10. I have never had rice pudding of any kind… Reading what goes into this Persian Saffron Rice Pudding recipe does sound pretty good though. So, maybe I should look into trying out some rice puddings. Also, thank you for the history lesson on Persian Rice Pudding, great read.

  11. I have had some good rice puddings, but nothing so interesting as this recipe. It looks fabulous. I would never have thought to use saffron but I imagine it enhances the flavor.

  12. Ohh I love Persian saffron rice pudding. A coworker of mine is Persian and she makes this during a few of our potlucks and its always a hit. It definitely is a lengthy process to make. Would love to make a batch myself.

  13. Michael Satterfield

    Wow, this looks amazing the photos make me want to attempt to make this, but I would have to really give it a try since I am not a cook. Great post.

  14. I’m pretty sure this smells amazing, especially with the saffron. Rice pudding is such a lovely treat. I don’t know much about Persian food, so it’s nice to come across recipes like this.

  15. Definitely I’ve never heard of Persian rice pudding before; one that has rose water,saffron and cardamom? Whoa! I’d love to try it. Most of the ingredients used seem new although the dish absolutely looks delicious!

  16. I have actually tried Persian rice pudding before because I have some Muslim family members and during Ramadan this is one of the puddings that their neighbors would bring round which I thought was very sweet. But your version with the edible silver and rose buds is simply exquisite!

  17. I’ve never seen a rice pudding look so pretty! My mom made basic white rice pudding when I was growing up, but I never liked the texture and the flavors were very bland.

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