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 2 cups at a time to the cooked rice. After each addition the mixture should be stirred and cooked until it comes to a low boil and thickens before adding more milk. 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.
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.
- Place the rice in the nonstick stockpot. Add 4 cups of cold water and ¼ tsp salt. Bring it to a 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, about 20-25 minutes.
- Pour 7 cups of milk into a microwave safe bowl and heat it on high power until very hot.
- Add the milk two cups 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 more. This will take from 5 to 10 minutes. As you add more milk it will take longer to thicken.
- Add the last cup of milk and rosewater. Cook 10 more minutes and stir several times. The pudding will be creamy and thick, and it will thicken further after it is chilled.
- 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.
Fae's Twist & Tango says
I don’t know of any Persian child not growing up on shir-berenj. Lovely heart and belly delight treat! It is as good as it gets! 🙂
So true! I have very early childhood memories of eating Shir Berenj for dessert on winter nights so long ago.
We only had Sholeh Zard on our trip. I will definitely try Shir Berenj this weekend – and I am making Fesenjun again – using your recipe, but I use chicken thighs with skin, because I like the additional flavor (and fat). BTW, my family roots are Venezuelan and, like so many Latin cultures, rice pudding is a staple. I love all the varieties.
Dear Maggie, I hope you love Shir Berenj as much as I do, it is soothing and it is wonderful and strangely enough a perfect dessert for cooler temperatures. I’m really interested to learn what you think especially since you have already tried one popular Persian rice pudding!
That is wonderful that you’re going to make Fesenjun again; just recently I made several pints of homemade chicken stock using chicken with skin and all and I have to admit it is amazing, will post it soon 🙂
Just Jim says
I well remember shir berenj while a member of the Peace Corps in Shiraz in the early ’70s.From time to time I cook something Persian to this day. At my daughter’s Celebration of Life in September of 2011, we served Fesenjun, about 4 different versions of it. Three of those were made by Irani. Mine was the other. I so enjoy your blog and sharing food from other cultures. It is one of the primary things that bind us as humans. Thank you, khaili mamnoon, Khanoom.
Dearest Jim, I very much appreciate your heartfelt comment! I’m very happy that you got to know the Iran of the 70’s. It is wonderful to hear that you are enjoying the diversity of recipes on my blog. I too believe that food is a universal language that connects all of us on this earth, and different cultures make our lives so much richer. Khahesh mikonam aghay aziz, mamnoon az shoma.