Food & Beverage

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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.

28 thoughts on “Persian Saffron Rice Pudding

  1. چه باحال .همیشه از مطالب این سایت خوشم می اومد.از این یکی بیشتر از همه :D

  2. Wow–this is very cool indeed. It’s always fascinating to learn/read about the food of the world. The problem is that it makes me want to eat–all of it.

  3. Wow, this is so interesting Goli! I love the photo of you stirring the pot. That’s a lot of rice pudding!

  4. hah! Almost too pretty to eat!
    I love rice pudding. Is the huge cauldron typical of the amount of rice a family prepares?
    Or is this only used when making loads of food at once?
    mmmmm rice. :D

  5. there’s something mystical about rice pudding. my family is from sweden and we have a ceremony with rice pudding on christmas eve. rice pudding is truly the earth’s comfort food, i think!

  6. I LOVE the idea of a devotional pudding! The closest we seem to have to that is Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s so often accompanied by curses instead of loving thoughts :-) I will definitely remember to think joyfully next time I’m cooking for loved ones.

  7. This is a wonderful piece with beautiful photography. I can’t imagine using only my fingers to create those intricate characters with just the grains of cinnamon! I am certain that the prayers were heard, and that the pudding was literally divine. Welcome back!

  8. I love that you have shared this with us, so thank you! Whenever I cook something specifically for my family or my hub I always make it with love. Its great to see that this is such an engaging way to cook something with love for so many.

  9. thanks dear friend for the information :D
    i’m iranian and i love this food,its not a pudding because when u eat it,u can see the rice is still touchable in your mouth
    for us it’s a kind of food or kind of dessert.
    anyways its so tasty
    thank you!!

  10. What a beautiful tradition. Thank you for sharing–my faith has been strengthened today knowing that the faith of others is so strong.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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