Sholeh Zard is a beloved and popular rice pudding that has all the quintessential flavors of a Persian dessert. Fragrant Persian rice is slowly simmered in a large body of water until it begins to soften. One by one, saffron, rosewater, and sugar find their way into the pot and diligently do their part to create a creamy, aromatic, and vibrant rice pudding that is as familiar to Iranians as apple pie is to Americans.
Sholeh Zard in Farsi translates to soft and yellow, accurately capturing the essence of this pudding. What the name doesn’t reference is the deep and intoxicating combination of aromas that will intrigue your nose. In addition to the rosewater, it is essential to use an aromatic rice such as basmati or jasmine rice. These most closely resemble the rice that is produced near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran.
Saffron of course is the key to this pudding. Too little of it will yield a pale yellow pudding that will leave you longing. Too much of it: well, that’s not good either. Not only is saffron obviously quite expensive, so it makes no sense to use any more than you truly need; too much of it could overpower the delicate flavors of rose and aromatic.
Name an occasion, and Iranians have a reason to make Sholeh Zard! You have a wedding, you’d better have some Sholeh Zard handy. Celebrating Nourouz, the Persian New Year, or Shab-e Yalda, the winter equinox, yup, you need Sholeh Zard. Not to mention many religious celebrations that necessitate the making of large batches of this pudding to serve to guests.
I have distinct memories of my Aunt Azar, whom you may have noticed I’ve mentioned on my blog several times, making Sholeh Zard in the largest pot I have EVER seen in my life. Frankly, I don’t remember the specific occasion, but I do remember the production. It felt as though she was feeding the world her brightest and most delicious Sholeh Zard.
I guess these were the privileges of being a kid, not having to know the reasons. My main concern was when the food would be ready and more importantly when I would be allowed to devour it!
Sholeh Zard can be served cold or at room temperature, but only if you can resist the temptation to eat it hot right out of the pot! So when I make this, I typically save a small portion to eat right away. The remainder is then placed in individual dishes and garnished with ground cinnamon, slivered pistachios and almonds, and rose petals. The designs range from symmetrical lines to ornate decoration using calligraphy to write various religious names and references.
Though I make Sholeh Zard quite frequently these days, I distinctly remember the very first time I prepared this pudding. It was in my first apartment in Flagstaff, AZ, while attending university. It’s probably not surprising that this novice, cooking from memory and without access to Persian markets, created a rather pale and runny version of Sholeh Zard. Nevertheless, I remember tasting it and recognizing all the familiar elements of flavors and textures. And my Sholeh Zard has improved since!
Back then, I had no clear sense of what I was doing, but the desire to experience a piece of home was my guiding light, as it continues to be.
- 1 cup Basmati or Jasmine rice, rinsed
- 9 cups water, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar, adjust to your taste
- 4 tablespoons rosewater
- 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon, ground
- 2 tablespoons pistachios, slivered
- 2 tablespoons almonds, slivered
- In a large pot, combine 8 cups of water, the rinsed rice and salt and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally.
- Once the rice mixture has come to a boil, lower the flame, cover and cook for 60 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent the rice settling in the bottom. Take extra care not to over mix.
- After 60 minutes, the rice should be soft and the mixture reasonably thick.
- Add the remaining ingredients including the remaining 1 cup of water. Gently stir and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for another 30 minutes.
- At this stage the pudding should have a creamy and homogeneous substance without any excess liquid. In the event there is excess liquid, continue to cook on low flame uncovered until the right texture has been achieved. Keep in mind that the pudding will harden as it cools down.
- Place the Sholeh Zard in individual serving cups and garnish with ground cinnamon, slivered pistachios and almonds.
- Place in the refrigerator and serve chilled.