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A couple of weeks ago, when I was visiting my family in Tehran, I had the honor of being present for my aunt’s annual ceremony of preparing Sholeh Zard, a traditional Persian saffron rice pudding. Unfortunately, she doesn’t use a recipe of any kind that I can share here, but watching the process was truly fascinating. If you search “Sholeh Zard” online, there are a lot of recipes shared. The basic ingredients are white rice (aromatic basmati works well), water, saffron, sugar, rose water, cardamom, almond slivers, and cinnamon and chopped pistachios for garnish. The rice and water are the only two ingredients that have set values, because the other ingredients vary based on taste.
My aunt soaked the rice in water from the night before, and in the morning, she lightly crushed the rice grains by hand while they were still in the water. This broke up the long grains of rice, making them more conducive to a pudding texture in the end. On the day of the ceremony, she started the rice and water cooking in a giant pot, and friends and family came over throughout the following few hours to help stir. This is a devotional pudding, made with love and intention. The pudding needed to be constantly stirred, and every person who stirred the pot prayed for loved ones while they were stirring. Here I am happily stirring while my aunt adds the saffron:
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The saffron has to be dissolved in hot water before it gets added to the pudding. You can see how bright the color is in the cup my aunt is holding. She likes to add a lot of saffron to her pudding, giving it this warm, rich, orangey-yellow color:
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Once the pudding is done, it is poured into many smaller bowls and containers to be distributed. The pudding is made to be shared. When the top layer solidifies a bit, cinnamon is poured into a small bowl, and using a technique where you grab a bit of cinnamon between your thumb and index finger, prayers are written in Arabic on top of each bowl. The corners are decorated with chopped pistachios. Here is my aunt working on the cinnamon writing:
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I loved being a part of the process and especially beholding the love and intention that went into the pudding. It was also really fun to deliver the beautiful dishes to friends and family. I like to think they could taste the love.