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

  1. Wash and rinse rice thoroughly until the water runs clear, then drain.
  2. In a big pot, boil rice with 10-12 cups of water. Remove any foam.
  3. Once rice has cooked and softened completely, add sugar. Stir well with a wooden spoon to combine and dissolve the sugar.
  4. Once sugar has dissolved, add almonds, saffron, butter and rosewater. Stir well to mix all ingredients.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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!

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Comments (29)

  • theunmanlychef 6 years ago Reply

    Awesome!! I have so many great memories of sholeh zard it was always around growing up. Such a satisfying dish!

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Lucky you! That’s wonderful! My mom is not partial to this dish so I rarely had it when growing up, only at mehmoonie and nazr and that type of thing 😉

  • Coco in the Kitchen 6 years ago Reply

    This is lovely, Azita joon. I shared my mom’s recipe for Persian New Year and found it a very difficult one to photograph. Your pics are beautiful!

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Loved your Sunny post about Sholeh Zard, dear Coco!

  • Elaine @ foodbod 6 years ago Reply


  • apuginthekitchen 6 years ago Reply

    I love this dish, I made it differently though, have you ever heard of cooking the rice in milk? Thats the way I was taught, I added saffron, rose water, sugar and butter too. Your photo’s are making me hungry,

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Of course, that’s classic version of rice pudding in the West, no? We make a version that way but w/out saffron and it’s called ‘shir berenj’ (I posted about it ages ago) I do love the idea of adding saffron to it! Will try it at least once w/your suggestion.

    apuginthekitchen 6 years ago

    I think I probably did it wrong but in retrospect I don’t think saffron should have been added. I did a fusion shir berenj sholeh zard.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago

    Fusion! Love it! We can call it Yellow Lion ( a pun on the ‘shir’ which means both milk and lion in Farsi) 😀

  • Sounds like the most wonderfully, fragrant rice pudding Azita!

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    It surely does smell good, Margot jan, I won’t deny!

  • […] hat-tip to Azita and Fari over at Fig & Quince for this delicious recipe garnered on their recent trip to Iran! They explain why a Persian dessert is so […]

  • Amanda 6 years ago Reply

    Oh Azita, this is so beautiful and meaningful. I love the hearts. Saffron to me is like gold so to have a dessert that has meaning, made with gold, wow. It’s so beautiful. The ingredients are so rich I would love to try this. xo.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    My friend had such a well stocked kitchen, It was a food bloggers dream! It was like, ‘you need props?’ here, check out this, this, this and that drawer, each filled w/ cool and interesting dishes! Score!
    Do try this Amanda joon, it’s particularly good on a cool day!

  • Lilly Sue 6 years ago Reply

    Though maybe a simple Persian dish it sounds simply delicious 🙂 I love rice pudding but do not have it near enough! 🙂

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Rice pudding is such comfort food, I totally am in your corner and see its appeal. You have got to try this Persian version at least once, OK? (w/out beer though, ha ha, won’t go together at all)

    Lilly Sue 6 years ago

    I definitely will try the Persian version and without beer 🙂

  • fearlessdining 6 years ago Reply

    This recipe looks beautiful. I have saffron threads and it never occurred to me to make something on the sweet side with them. Thank you for this recipe 🙂

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Ah, that’s how you found me! I already passed on link of your awesome site to my sis.
    And yes, that’s one of the things I really personally enjoy about the Persian cuisine as well: using ingredients that one ordinarily would solely associate with sweet dishes and using them in savory dishes and vice versa!
    Thank you for visiting and commenting and if you do make it (a glutten free version of it) I hope you’ll enjoy it greatly and noosheh jaan! 🙂

  • Francesca 6 years ago Reply

    Such a gorgeous looking dish! Maybe you know that saffron risotto is one of the most popular Italian dishes but a saffron rice pudding? It is a must-try for me. The sous chef is simply adorable!!! 🙂

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    I love risotto but have not yet tried saffron risotto! I’ll have to give it a go Francesca joon! 🙂

  • Sophie James 6 years ago Reply

    Really beautiful. Wonderful evocative photos too. Can’t wait to try. Sophie x

  • laurasmess 6 years ago Reply

    I’ve been eating English rice pudding since childhood but this Persian version sounds so fragrant and beautiful! Rose water, butter and saffron… Oh my! I am so glad that you got truly spoiled by friends and family in Iran. We are now being spoiled with recipes, stories and beautiful anecdotes from far away! I cannot wait to make this (and despite being all behind on posts I’m kind of glad I missed the teaser! I would have been wondering all night!) xx

  • Sophie33 6 years ago Reply

    A fantastic tasty dessert recipe! I loved it & made it already 2 times! Lovely helper too!

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Wow, Sophie, I’m so glad to hear it! Love azita 🙂

    Sophie33 6 years ago


  • […] that halim is a type of dish that is among the ‘nazri’ food — like halva, or sholeh zard — that is to say among the traditional class of edible fare that the devout in Iran make […]

  • […] Here’s the story of this pic: one time we were at home minding our business when the doorbell rang and lo, we were offered these two bowls of “nazri” Persian saffron rice pudding aka sholeh zard (a good recipe here.) […]

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