Although Armenian, my family is from Iran and we revel in joining the traditional celebrations of our homeland. Nowruz is one of my absolute favorite holidays and demonstrates the unending hospitality of the Persian people.
Seven items whose names begin with the letter S in Farsi are featured, each one signifying an important element. My set of 7 is comprised of items readily available in our kitchen:
-Apple represents health & beauty
-Garlic stands for medicine
-Green sprouts grown from lentils or wheat symbolize rebirth
-Sumac (a tart spice) translates to the sunrise
-Coins symbolize prosperity
-Vinegar stands for patience
-Wild olive fruit (oleaster) symbolizes love
-Hyacinth represents Spring and Heaven
Did you know?
The Persian language is known as Farsi and shares the same alphabet as Arabic, both of which are written right to left.
Sholehzard carries a bit of romance with it. Mom makes the pudding, then Dad adds the finishing touch. He patiently sprinkles cinnamon powder on top in the shape of نوش جان pronounced nooshe jan which literally translates to may your soul be nourished. Isn’t that a beautiful rendition of bonapetit?
The best part of any celebration is the FOOD. There is no better way to welcome Spring than with something sweet. Sholehzard is an old fashioned Persian dessert made of rice and saffron. Its name, which means yellow flame, well suits the bright colour from the saffron. Every golden spoonful is a taste of Heaven, especially chilled and enjoyed for breakfast, even on a cold and rainy day like today.
Now, before you poo-poo rice pudding, know that I am not usually a fan of mushy things, especially rice pudding. In fact, I would rather forego dessert altogether than eat rice pudding. So. have faith that I would never present a recipe that I did not personally test, taste and love.
Last night, my sweet-toothed monster dropped by for a visit and refused to leave. I had such a craving for sholehzard that I had to make a big pot of it. I must confess that I had neither the time nor the patience to soak the rice as tradition dictates nor to run to the store for cheap quality rice.
We usually have very nice basmati rice on hand and when my mother reads this, she just might kill me when she finds out that I used Tilda last night. This saffron rice pudding can be served warm or cold. I prefer it chilled, although I was in such a hurry to taste it that I burned my tongue because I could not wait for it to cool. But, it was so worth it.
Another confession (yes, I have many vices today) is that I have lost Mom’s recipe. Since I was in such a rush to make this, I went right to my friend Azita of Turmeric & Saffron. Her colorful blog chronicles the beauties of traditional Persian cuisine with instructions that are easy to follow.
Saffron Rice Pudding (SholehZard)
Notes: Traditionally, raw blanched almonds are tossed into the mix, but you can omit the almonds altogether, if you like. Orange blossom water is a lovely substitute for rose water, but has a much more intense flavour. So, use less of it. Cardamom stands in for cinnamon in my version.
Adapted from Turmeric & Saffron
Serves 6 sweet-toothed monsters
Prep: 20 mins
Chill: 2 hrs
12 cups water
2 Tb hot water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups basmati rice
3 cups sugar
1/3 cup rose water (or 1/4 cup orange blossom water)
1/2 cup ground raw unsalted pistachios
Rinse rice until the water becomes clear.
Measure 12 cups of water into a heavy-bottomed pot.
Heat on medium until it just reaches a rolling boil.
Grind saffron with sugar in a small mortar & pestle. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot water
and allow it to steep.
Add rice to the pot and cook until very soft, maybe 40 minutes.
Next, in goes the sugar,
followed by the saffron and cardamom. Stir and lower heat.
Allow the pudding to simmer another 10 minutes.
Turn the heat off and add the rose water. Mix gently.
Once the pudding has cooled to room temperature,
transfer to a pretty bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Chill in the refrigerator.
Put a generous handful of pistachios into a clean tea towel and gather like a pouch.
Using a small pan or rolling pin, give them a good bashing.
Shprinkle ground pistachios on top of the pudding and serve.
You cannot help but smile at the sunny face of this dessert. The sweet and fragrant flavour is sheer heaven. And once chilled, it is such a refreshing treat. This one is very easy to make and lasts several days in the fridge, which means you can keep celebrating long after the first day of Spring.
Weeknights are chaotic in most households as there is the typical mad rush to make dinner, feed the kids, bathe them, read bedtime stories, beg them to fall asleep, then unwind for some brain-numbing entertainment in front of the TV. Last night, Daisy was forever hungry.
After she had a big bowl of borsht*, a mammoth slice of leftover birthday cake**, 2 fried eggs, she claimed she was still hungry and wanted another egg. It was difficult to figure out whether this was just a ploy to delay bedtime or she was truly hungry. So, we agreed to a small bowl of Cheerios, juice and bedtime stories.
There had been no time for me to think of dinner. And, since everyone knows a good chef always tastes the goods before presenting them to the patrons, that SholehZard was waiting patiently for me in the kitchen. Maybe that is why I slept like a baby, dreaming about the sunny days ahead.
* A Russian cabbage-beet soup Mom makes
** Vanilla sponge cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries