FoodThe pudding that conquered tables worldwide

The pudding that conquered tables worldwide

Sholeh Zard
Sholeh Zard
Images source: © Getty Images | NICOLE KANDI
7:33 PM EDT, May 4, 2024

Puddings with sholeh zard, a Persian rice and saffron pudding, are acclaimed as exquisite. But how does one prepare this delicacy?

A recent ranking by the prestigious Taste Atlas culinary guide spotlighted the world's most delectable puddings. Among the top picks is the traditional Thai dessert khao niao mamuang, made from sticky rice, steamed then soaked in sweetened coconut milk, and served with fresh mango slices.

Also earning acclaim is the Puerto Rican tembleque, which combines corn starch, coconut milk, sugar, and cinnamon. The Turkish dessert fırın sütlaç, with its blend of water, milk, sugar, rice, and rice flour, enhanced with either rose water or vanilla and garnished with ground cinnamon or chopped hazelnuts, received high praise as well.

However, the unparalleled champion is sholeh zard, an ancient Persian dessert. This creamy, aromatic pudding has been prepared according to traditional recipes, handed down through Iranian families for generations.

Even though it's an exotic treat, sholeh zard can be easily made at home as all ingredients are readily available in stores. It's the perfect dessert to brighten a chilly autumn or winter evening.

Saffron and Rice

The distinct flavor and aroma of the Iranian dessert primarily stem from saffron, a spice deeply revered in Iranian cuisine for centuries. Saffron stigmas are meticulously harvested by hand and dried. To produce one kilogram (around 2.2 pounds) of saffron, up to 170,000 flowers are needed, earning it the title of the most expensive botanical in the world for centuries. The Middle Ages saw attempts to counterfeit this precious spice with similar-looking but inferior quality materials, a crime often met with the death penalty.

Saffron is prized for its flavor and impressive nutritional benefits, and ancient healers like Hippocrates, Galen, and Paracelsus celebrate it. Known to stimulate appetite and aid digestion, it is also an effective antispasmodic and antipyretic and induces sweating. Moreover, saffron is believed to act as an aphrodisiac, enhancing libido.

Recent studies have discovered that saffron components can inhibit nucleic acid production and, as a result, cancer cell division, potentially lowering cancer risk. This aromatic spice also helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol, contributing to cardiovascular health.

Additionally, consuming saffron may boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, the "happiness hormones," improving mood and aiding in the management of depression, anxiety, and stress.

The other key ingredient in sholeh zard is rice, with Southeast Asian jasmine rice being the preferred choice. Named for its long, snow-white grains that resemble the bush's fragrant flowers, jasmine rice releases a pleasant aroma during cooking, similar to jasmine flowers.

Sholeh Zard
Sholeh Zard© Getty Images | MichaelRLopez

Sholeh zard – Recipe

Rinse 1 cup of jasmine rice several times with cold water, then soak it in 6 cups of boiling water and simmer (uncovered) for 1 hour and 15 minutes without stirring. The rice should be soft enough to crumble when pinched. Then, add 2 cups of boiling water, 2 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of rose water, and 1/4 teaspoon of saffron (pre-soaked in warm milk for 30 minutes). Cook for about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.

Transfer the pudding to small cups, allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Serve sholeh zard sprinkled with ground cinnamon and chopped pistachios or almonds, garnished with a few dried rose petals.

Related content