Shir Berenj is Rice Pudding Persian style! Back when the fancier European desserts such as pate choux, éclair, rollet, panna cotta and many others had not found their way into the homes and hearts (stomachs) of Iranians, there was this simple and creamy Persian dessert called Shir Berenj.
I grew up eating Shir Berenj (Shirbinish in Azeri) which was one of my mom’s signature recipes; I treasure her handwritten recipe in my food journal! She always served it with her tender and crunchy walnut preserve (girdakan murabasi) which was made with young walnuts still in their soft green shells; the best I have ever tasted!
Shir Berenj is made with milk, “shir” and rice, “berenj.” The rice is gently simmered in water until it falls apart and has a very sticky and creamy texture. Next, the milk is added one cup at a time and simmered gently to allow the starch in the rice to cook into a smooth pudding.
Besides this recipe, I have posted two other traditional Persian dessert recipes in the past that also have some type of rice in the ingredients, and all three are scented with rosewater. Fereni is a sweet rice custard that is made with rice flour and milk. Sholeh Zard is a sweet saffron rice pudding that is cooked with water instead of milk.
Shir Berenj is cooked without any sugar and is only lightly perfumed with rosewater. Shir Berenj may be topped with fruits, nuts, or ground cardamom combined with a number of delicious sweets such as maple syrup, melted chocolate, honey, fruit syrup, or fruit preserves. I usually enjoy my Shir Berenj topped with walnuts and drizzled with maple syrup, reminiscing my mom’s walnut preserves, while my daughter loves her’s with a sprinkle of ground cardamom and a drizzle of honey. As you can see the possibilities are endless!
Short grain calrose or sushi rice, whole milk (measure out 7 cups at the beginning, it is easy to lose count!) and my preferred rosewater (Golchin) have been used in this recipe. Shir Berenj is creamier with whole milk, but 2% milk works fine for a lighter version. The rice is cooked with water over medium low heat in a nonstick pot until it falls apart and has a creamy texture.
The rice is ready when the grains have fallen apart and most of the water has been cooked off but there is some minimal sticky liquid mixed with rice. You should be able to drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot and leave a clear track for a few seconds. This is when the milk is added 1 cup at a time to the cooked rice. After each cup of milk the mixture should be stirred and cooked until it comes to a low boil and thickens, then the next cup of milk is added. Add the 7th cup of milk and the rosewater at the same time. Stir to combine and cook for another 10 minutes until it comes to a low boil. Ladle the Shir Berenj into serving bowls.
UPDATE to speed up the cooking process: Heat the 7 cups of milk until very hot (not boiling) and then add it to the rice one cup at a time as per the recipe below.
Cool the Shir Berenj at room temperature for 10 minutes, until lukewarm, then cover the bowls loosely with a plastic wrap or a small plate to prevent too much condensation. Chill completely in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours before serving. When the bowls are covered like this, a very thin film forms on top of the Shir Berenj but it does not get dry and crusty.
To serve, set the table with chilled bowls of Shir Berenj, maple syrup, honey or melted chocolate, as well as small bowls of fruits, nuts and fruit preserves for the guests to choose from. Enjoy!
Servings: Ten 6-ounce heat proof serving bowls
You will need: One 5-Qt nonstick stockpot
- 1 cup plus 2 TBSP Jasmine rice, or Calrose (sushi) short grain rice (Jasmine is more aromatic)
- 4 cups cold water
- ¼ tsp salt
- 7 cups whole milk (may use 2% for a lighter version)
- 3 TBSP rosewater
- Maple syrup
- Fruit preserves
- Fruit syrup
- Drizzle of honey with a sprinkle of ground cardamom
- Melted chocolate (a nontraditional treat for the chocolate lovers!)
- Pick through the rice and wash it 3-4 times or until the water is almost clear. Drain as much of the water as possible.
- Measure out 7 cups of whole or 2% milk (heat in a microwave until very hot right before adding it to the cooked rice)
- Place the rice in the nonstick stockpot. Add 4 cups of cold water and ¼ tsp salt. Bring it to a full boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook uncovered until the rice grains fall apart and have a creamy texture. Most of the water will be cooked off with some minimal sticky liquid mixed in with the rice (about 20-25 minutes). You should be able to drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot and leave a clear track for a few seconds, without any liquid.
- Add the milk one cup at a time to the cooked rice. After each addition continue cooking over medium-low heat. When the mixture comes to a soft boil and thickens add the next cup of milk; this will take from 5 to 10 minutes (as the volume increases with every addition of milk it takes longer to come to another boil).
- Add the last cup of milk and rosewater. Cook for another 10 minutes. The pudding will be creamy and thick, and it will thicken further as it cools.
- Remove the pot from the heat and ladle the Shir Berenj among the serving bowls.
- Cool for 10 minutes at room temperature then cover the bowls with a loose plastic wrap or a small plate and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
- To serve Shir Berenj, set the table with maple syrup, honey, melted chocolate, fruits, nuts, ground cardamom and fruit syrup or preserve of your choice and let everyone choose their favorite topping.