What’s more comforting than a bowl of rice pudding? Now, take that rice pudding and add the subtle flavors of saffron and cardamom, and you have an exotic, easy-to-make treat.
The other day my Persian family had a big gathering, which was also an elaborate feast. Of the many fragrant dishes that were served, my cousin’s saffron-flavored rice pudding, known as Sholeh Zard in Farsi, was one of my favorites.
Sholeh Zard is a classic Persian dessert. It’s flavored with some of the most essential ingredients in Persian cuisine: rosewater, cardamom, and saffron. The combination of these flavors gives this dessert a subtle floral taste. Rosewater can taste like perfume if you’re not used to it, so give it a sniff and decide if you want to start with half the amount called for. You can always add more later.
If you don’t have an ethnic food store nearby, you can find rosewater, cardamom, and saffron online. Kalustyan’s, the well-known retail shop in New York City, has an online store that carries Persian, Indian, and Middle Eastern ingredients.
Below is a recipe for a dairy-free version of Sholeh Zard, from the website My Persian Kitchen. I often consult this site for trustworthy recipes of traditional Persian dishes. The author Sanam Lamborn includes step-by-step instructions on how to make the pudding, if you need some guidance.
Sholeh Zard (Saffron Rice Pudding) by Susan Lamborn of My Persian Kitchen
2 pods cardamom
1 cup rosewater
1 cup rice
9 cups water
1 tsp saffron
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds
cinnamon & slivered pistachios for garnish
Lightly crush the two cardamom pods and place in one cup of rosewater. Set aside.
Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Combine the rice and water in a stockpot and boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Cook rice uncovered until tender, about half an hour.
Grind saffron with a pinch of sugar. Add 3 tablespoons of hot water to the saffron and shake well. Allow to brew while the rice cooks.
Add the sugar to the rice and cook for another half hour, until the water and rice become dense. Stir the rice every so often so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add brewed saffron and cook for another half hour.
Add rose water with cardamom pods and slivered almonds. Mix well. At this point you can continue cooking the pudding on the stove top on low until it is completely dense, or place it in an ovenproof pot and put it in the oven. THEN turn the oven to 350º and leave the pudding in there for 15 to 20 minutes.
Discard cardamom pods. Place the Sholeh Zard in a shallow oval or rectangular dish. Garnish with cinnamon and slivered pistachios. Cool to room temperature. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours. Serve chilled.