I was probably only seven or eight years old. I came to my grandma’s kitchen and saw rows of Shole Zard (Persian Saffron Rice Puddings) sitting in the kitchen. And more were coming in! They all came with different decorations and words written on them. Words were “ Ya Hossein”, “Ya Allaah”, or other religiously related names common in Sia’s iconic tradition. However, they all had many things in common! They all had cinnamon and almonds for the toppings and decorations! Yet, the way women used them were a lot different than each other. The neater the decoration, the more appealing the Shole Zard looked.
Many people cooked and shared this specific desert on the day of Arbayeen which is basically the fortieth day of Imam Hossein killing in Ashoura day. And this tradition happens every year. My memory of this event is probably the oldest, yet conspicuous I have from Shole Zard Making tradition.
My grandma picked out a few which had richer saffron colour and almonds to save for grandpa and other members to be served later. And gave away the rest to the poor.
“Why everybody makes Shole Zard in this day? Why don’t they just make it in other days, so we do not have to give most of them away?“, I asked?Well,, that is oblation to Imam Hossein for this day, and people just cannot postpone it!” Grandma said. However, I was not convinced by the fact that people make this delicious dessert only as an oblation. Year after year past until I grew up in that practicing community.
I, forever, connect the image of Shole Zard to those days when we received many bowls all at the same time. My grandma and other women in the family commented on taste and discussed the methods and tricks ladies had used to decorate their oblatory Shole Zard bowls. Gossiping was in fact a fun part of the whole story of Shole Zard bowls.
These days food culture is changing. Shole Zard is more widespread, known to be a Persian dessert which is served at many restaurants and food places. I cook Persian Rice Pudding both for oblatory and simple as a yummy desert at family dinners. It is worth to mention that since it is sweet, I do not make it very often. And when I do, I keep portions small.
500gr Jasmine Rice
200 gr butter
2 teaspoons saffron, mixed in 1/3 cup boiling water and brewed for few minutes
1/2 cup rosewater
4 tablespoons crushed pistachio, for decoration
1/5cup crushed almond, extra for decoration
1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon, for decoration
Wash rice a few times until the water is clear, and drain. In a medium large pot, add about 2 liters water and bring to a boil. Remove foams that may form. When rice softens completely, add sugar, stir well and let boil on a very low heat for another hour, still occasionally. This helps the sugar caramelize in Shole, giving it an even and infused sweet taste.
Dissolve saffron into Shole. Add butter and give it a good stir. Add in most of the almonds and the rosewater. And cook for half an hour on a very low temperature until set, and get a creamy texture. Serve with pistachio, almond and cinnamon sprinkled on top.