Today I’m sharing a special recipe that has been handed down by my mom’s family for several generations. My mom was an amazing cook and a great person. Not only did she know all of her delicious recipes by heart but also she had all the patience in the world with her cooking and baking as well as with the people around her!
This Sari Shilah is her recipe and you will find out how special it is once you try it. Sari Shilah in Azeri (my mother tongue) translates to Sholeh Zard in Farsi. These names describe the texture and color of this Persian Saffron Rice Pudding. Sholeh and Shilah mean a pudding-like texture. Zard and Sari mean yellow. This popular Persian dessert is made on all sorts of occasions in Iran including Shabe Yalda (Yalda Night), which is the festivities that take place on the longest night of the year and arrival of Winter.
If you are familiar with Persian cuisine you know that saffron is very important and sometimes essential to Persian cooking. Iran produces some of the world’s best quality fragrant saffron with pleasant flavor and high coloring strength. “Sargol” is the top of the line and most expensive Iranian saffron. Sargol translates to “top of the flower.” Each saffron flower produces only 3 filaments and the most potent part of each filament is the deep red top section that is cut and separated and dried to produce Sargol saffron. Some of the saffron that is sold in the western markets is pale orange mixed with yellow strands and lacks the intense saffron flavor and color, and the buyer should look for all red strands when possible.
Sholeh Zard is a delicious old fashioned dessert that is very delicate and light in texture, mild in sweetness and it gets its golden color from saffron. This traditional Persian dessert is usually served at dinner parties in individual dessert goblets and garnished with designs made with ground cinnamon and slivered pistachios or almonds. Some people cook Sholeh Zard in large quantities and share it with friends and neighbors on certain religious holidays and instead of designs they write the names of religious figures with ground cinnamon.
Saffron is essential in making Sholeh Zard and there is no substitute for this “red gold” spice in this particular dessert. Having said that, one must be careful about the amount of saffron used in this dessert. Too little saffron makes Sholeh Zard pale yellow and weak in fragrance and flavor, but on the other hand too much saffron can be overpowering, even bitter. Good saffron has a wonderful fragrance, flavor and color, but more does not necessarily mean better.
Another important point is that the rice should be cooked slowly until it falls apart and gets very sticky before adding the sugar and the rest of the ingredients. The desired Sholeh Zard texture is delicate and smooth with no chewy grains of rice. I also prefer nuts as a garnish on top; when they are mixed in with the rice pudding they get soggy and lose their crunch.
Continue cooking for 5 more minutes, or until Sheleh Zard thickens. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and ladle the Sholeh Zard into heatproof 6-ounce dessert goblets or bowls
Cool the Sholeh Zard in room temperature then refrigerate to chill completely for 1-2 hours before serving. It tastes amazing with or without garnish
Garnish the tops with ground cinnamon and slivered pistachios or almonds. I have also added a few dried edible rose petals for color. Enjoy this all time favorite traditional fragrant Saffron Rice Pudding called Sholeh Zard or as Tabrizi’s call it, Sari Shilah!
Yield: About eight 6-ounce dessert cups
- Jasmine rice 1 cup
- 6 cups boiling water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2⅓ cups extra boiling water (to be added later)
- ¼ cup rosewater
- ¼ tsp ground saffron
- Ground cinnamon
- Slivered or chopped unsalted pistachio nuts
- Dried rose petals
- Pick through the rice, add it to a bowl and wash in cold water. Drain and wash couple of more times each time with fresh cold water. Drain all the water.
- Add rice and boiling water to a deep nonstick 3-Qt saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to just above the low marking. Simmer with a low boil without covering the pan.
- Do Not Stir for 1 hour 15 minutes. Most of the water will be cooked off and the rice should be completely tender. To test the rice, very gently squeeze one grain between thumb and index finger; it should fall apart with a sticky texture.
- Add 2⅓ cups boiling water, 2 cups sugar, ¼ cup rosewater, and ¼ tsp saffron. Increase the heat to med low and bring it to a boil. Continue cooking on medium low for 5 more minutes, or until Sholeh Zard thickens. Use a wooden spoon to stir several times so the Sholeh Zard does not stick to the bottom or sides of the pan. Remove from the heat.
- Pour into 6-ounce cups and cool in room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours until completely chilled.
- Garnish with ground cinnamon, slivered pistachios or almonds, and a few dried rose petals before serving and Enjoy!!