Sholeh Zard | Persian Saffron Rice Pudding
During my trip to Iran, my wonderful friend Haleh made a host of delicious Persian food (as alluded to in this post) for me to enjoy (boy, did I!) and also so that I could photograph and share the recipes of all that yummy Persian food with y’all. This Persian saffron rice pudding (one of my favorites) was one such specimen of Haleh khanoom’s beautiful & tasty handiwork. ‘Dastesh dard nakoneh!’ (May her hands not ache!)
Traditionally speaking, Persians consider snacks of such things as a mixture of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and raisins; fresh seasonal fruits at the end of a meal; and sips of tea sweetened with either sugar cubes or nabat (rock candy) or else with nibbles of dates or dried figs; as sufficient indulgence and cure for the sweet tooth. There really is no authentic culinary tradition of ‘dessert’ in Iranian cooking: cakes, cookies and pastries, often purchased from ‘ghanadi’ (pastry shops) instead of being made at home, used to be strictly reserved for company and festive gatherings such as the new year celebration and weddings. Which explains why Iranian cuisine, so rich and inventive in many ways, is somewhat paltry when it comes to a repertory of desserts.
Among the few authentic Persian sweets, a classic and stellar one is ‘sholeh zard’ which literally means “yellow wobbly” but is often translated as ‘Persian saffron rice pudding’ — which, let us acknowledge, is a far more fitting and refined name for this fragrant, sweet and comforting Persian treat. (Although, I am partial to the monicker of ‘yellow wobbly’, it has a naively charming ring to it.)
As you might have guessed from its English name by now, sholez zard gets its sunny disposition from saffron; its aromatic scent from rosewater (and butter); its wonderful smooshy texture from rice; and for its soft but not blandly mushy texture, sholeh zard owes a debt of gratitude to the crunchy almonds.
Now let’s take a moment to retrace our list of ingredients: saffron, rosewater, rice, almonds, pistachios. Quintessential ingredients of a Persian kitchen. Which begs the rhetorical question: could there be a more stereotypically Persian dish than sholeh zard? (Channeling Chandler Bing! Heh!)
Interestingly of note re the rice: Persians take pains in preparing rice so as to get a nice and fluffy bed of rice, each holy grain lengthened and puffed up to its personal best (an elaborate process attested to and detailed in the ‘How to make the perfect Persian rice” post) and yet, when making sholeh zard, the object of the game is to practically cook the rice to smithereens and mush it up and mush it up good. Take that, finicky Persian rice! Payback time! GAME ON!
When served, sholeh zard is always decorated with personal design flourishes — per the taste and whims of its maker — of sprinkled cinnamon and slivered pistachios and/or almonds. (Check out these whimsical sholeh zard designs & look at this sholeh zard beauty I found on Twitter!)
Sholeh zard may of course be served at Persian dinner parties and festive celebrations. But just like halva, its rival and oftentimes counterpart-companion dessert, sholeh zard is a sweet that also has somber and solemn associations. People of faith, when praying for something specific, sometimes make private personal vows ( called a ‘nazr‘) that should their prayer be answered, they would make charitable offerings of food (called a ‘nazri‘) to the needy — this may cynically be considered a quid-pro-quo barter, or, it may be considered a way to demonstrate good faith and gratitude to the almighty. This avowed charitable food offering may be as elaborate as a feast or as bare bones as tea and dates. Either halva or sholeh zard are almost always among the ‘nazri’ food thus offered.
(I have a couple of tales re nazr & nazri from my trip – tales saved for another post. Potentially worth the wait!)
Did someone make a nazr for the recipe? Because here we go, finally, with the recipe for the delightful wobbly yellow Persian rice saffron rosewater pudding:
- rice 2 cups (best quality)
- sugar 2 cups
- butter 100 grams
- rosewater 1/2 cup
- slivered almonds 50 grams
- saffron 1 teaspoon, tapered off (dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water)
- slivered pistachios and cinnamon for garnish
- Wash and rinse rice thoroughly until the water runs clear, then drain.
- In a big pot, boil rice with 10-12 cups of water. Remove any foam.
- Once rice has cooked and softened completely, add sugar. Stir well with a wooden spoon to combine and dissolve the sugar.
- Once sugar has dissolved, add almonds, saffron, butter and rosewater. Stir well to mix all ingredients.
- Continue to cook at low temperature for approximately half an hour — until the mixture has nicely settled. (The ideal end result is one where the rice grains have practically melted; and the texture is such that if you dip a spoon inside it, the pudding should be neither soupy nor too densely firm, just nicely dense and wobbley.)
- Remove pot from heat. While still hot, transfer the pudding to one or more serving bowls, allowing it to cool and set.
Note: For best results, use the best quality of rice. The sweetness of this pudding can be adjusted by using more or less sugar to taste.
Once the Persian saffron rice pudding has cooled off and its texture set, decorate with a personally favored flourish of pistachio, almond and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Serve to your hungry and grateful gang. Tell them to bring spoons.
Of special note to fellow shakamoos: the top layer of the Persian saffron rice pudding is the best part!
نوش جان! Nooshe jaan!
Thank you Haleh joon for feeding me yummy شله زرد and making this recipe a possibility!