As I ride the train through the Austrian countryside from Vienna to Salzburg, I thought of Sholeh Zard, a Persian rice pudding that I made for my Persian class not too long ago. Ok, I nothing about Austria reminds me of this dish, but I just wanted to post it! And maybe my sudden interest in posting this dish is my Persian homework calling from my backpack as I finally have some extra time on this long trip. However, food always wins, and I know you will love the interesting, and unusual flavor combinations in this Persian rice pudding.
To me, Sholeh Zard is very sweet and I serve it as a (vegan, did I mention this is vegan?) dessert, however it is normally served as a Persian appetizer. The flavors are typical, featuring saffron and rose water. If you haven’t had rose water, it is mildly sweet yet fragrant and really jazzes up a regular fruit salad, if you are looking for something to do with the rest of the bottle. Saffron has a very unique flavor and makes food yellow, naturally! You may find that saffron is very expensive, but you will not have to use a lot to get the flavor when you cook with it. Saffron is harvested from the stigma of the crocus flower which takes time and precision to harvest, which makes it a highly priced commodity. I found all the ingredients I needed at a Persian store near my house, but you can find Saffron variations at local grocery stores, and you can buy rose water at an Asian grocery store, or any Middle Eastern import store.
After having several Persian Sholeh Zard experts test mine out, they loved the flavor by I made a few beginners mistakes. Firstly, I used too much of the saffron, and since it is so expensive you just use a little for color and flavor, and fake the rest of the color with turmeric so the dish is bright yellow. I also used the “expensive” long grain rice, and I was told to use the “cheap rice” for this, the short grain. I did use Persian rice and found quite a taste difference, so if you can find Persian/Middle Eastern short grain that is the rice to use. If not any regular short grain rice could work, and you could switch over to brown rice if you want to try and make this more as an appetizer. My last mistake was not enough liquid. I made it the night before as I was bringing to my class, but by the time it got there the rice had soaked up most of the remaining liquid. It was still a wonderful flavor, but just not pudding like. I preferred the dish hot, but it is normally served room temperature or cool.
Overall reception of the dish was good and people enjoyed the curious flavors of the saffron and rice water, with a crunch of pistachio and a kick of cinnamon. I will try and make this rice pudding again, because it was pretty tasty.
As I am very new to Persian cooking, I referred to this recipe from the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, and this one from My Persian Kitchen. I also cut the sugar in half from the original recipe. Let me know what you think of this dish!
- 1 cup dry short-grain Rice
- 6-8 cups Water
- 1¼ cup Sugar
- ½ tsp Saffron*
- 1 tsp Tumeric (for brighter color)
- 1 cup Rose Water
- 2 tbsp Crushed Pistachios (for garnish)
- 1 tsp Cinnamon (for garnish)
- ⅓ cup slivered Almonds
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil, add in short grain rice. Allow this mixture to boil until the rice is relatively soft, about 30 minutes.
- In the meantime prepare the saffron. As pictured above I dissolved it in water, except I did not crush the saffron first. Crush the saffron with a little sugar, and dissolve it in about ¼ cup of hot water.
- Once the rice is soft, add in sugar rose water, almonds,turmeric, and saffron with it's water. Stir and let simmer for additional 30 minutes, adding more water as needed.
- Garnish with cinnamon and pistachios. Enjoy!