This post is dedicated to all those who tied the knot during this current pandemic and obviously the couple and their respective families had to do a lot of adjustment to their planned events. We do understand and acknowledge the fact that there was a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty involved during the process. Wish everyone all the very best in life. I did a post a while ago about Food at Pakistani Weddings which briefly covered celebration and food served at such joyous ceremonies and one of many popular desserts is the humble “Zarda”, today’s featured recipe.
Zarda got it’s name by it’s appearance. The word Zard represents deep yellow color in Urdu language and since these rice are pigmented with such food color, it is called Zarda. As far as I know, initially saffron was being used for coloring the rice which later got evolved into food color as you know saffron is very expensive and not readily available everywhere. So basic zarda is sweetened, fragrant and colored rice with some chopped nuts but it can be turned into a royal treat with khoya (evaporated milk), colorful ras gullay/chum chum (local/desi mithai) and dairy cream. It is totally a matter of preference and occasion. This is a very simple dessert but just like any other desi dessert, there are few points to remember and follow to nail it in terms of appearance, aroma and taste. This dish is prepared in three easy steps and let us discuss these steps and elements involved in detail…
In first step, rice is boiled fully and strained and here is how to do it;
Rice: Traditionally and technically, Sella rice is used for zarda. Sella is a form of treated rice which makes them very sturdy and they aren’t as fragile as other types of rice once soaked and fully cooked and don’t break easily even when put on longer simmer duration or while stirring. I would also strongly recommend using Sella rice to keep zarda authentic and true to it’s origin. Rice is first washed and soaked in water for at least thirty minutes (sometimes even longer) and then boiled in water. A couple of spices are added to the water which provide the trademark fragrance of Zarda. When water comes a rapid boil, deep yellow color aka zarday ka rang is added to the water along with soaked sella rice. Rice is boiled completely and then water is drained.
Spices and Color: Green cardamoms, few cloves, a stick of cinnamon and star anise are the basic spices that are added and boiled in water. They give an amazing fragrance to the rice during boiling. Later, while giving finishing touch to the zarda, a couple of more cardamoms are added to the oil temper/tarka.
Different variations of food coloring are available in the market. Make it as lightly tinted or as deep tinted as you please. Some prefer boiling rice without color and later sprinkle two or three colors like green, yellow and red over the rice (like in Biryani) in portions without being stirred or mixed together. These colors make “rainbow color zarda” as some rice is white, some is red, green and some is yellow.
For step two, boiled and strained rice are sweetened in a certain way with certain ingredients;
Ghee: For oil temper, traditionally desi ghee/ghee/clarified butter is used. Cooking oil can be used but for the real deal, use ghee. Ghee is heated in a pot with a couple of green cardamoms and stirred over low flame till cardamom releases some fragrance. This provides another subtle layer of taste and aroma to zarda.
Sugar: Once ghee and cardamom are heated, add sugar. The traditional ratio is 1:1 for rice and sugar, meaning they are both used in equal quantities. For 1 kg rice you need 1 kg sugar, simple. Or for 4 cups of rice you use 4 cups of sugar. Make sure to measure the ingredients either by weight or by volume specially for rice and sugar. Do not take 1 kg rice and add 4 cups of sugar or vice versa. Stick to one unit of measuring please. Let the sugar melt and form a thick syrup. Try not to stir the sugar with spoon much at this stage. Sway the pot to make sure it is evenly heated. Make sure the sugar is fully melted before adding rice otherwise it won’t melt and would add crunch to the rice.
Yogurt/Milk: To help sugar melt quickly and release water, it is a good idea to add a little yogurt or milk. Personally, I prefer yogurt as it controls splashes and sort of tones down the sweetness. Milk is fine too.
Time for step three. Once sugar is melted and thick syrup is formed in the pot, it is time to assemble zarda by adding boiled and strained rice to the sugar syrup. Give it a good stir to make sure all rice gets coated with sugar syrup. Cover the pot with the lid. Bring the flame down to minimum, place a simmer plate or tawa over the flame and place the covered pot on the simmer plate/tawa. Let it simmer for at least 30-40 minutes or a little longer or shorter depending on the quantities used. After thirty minutes, take the lid off to check if water has all been absorbed. If you are going for three color, sprinkle colors over rice in portions, do not blend them. Put the lid back on and simmer for five or ten minutes more. After that, switch the flame off but take the lid off after five minutes rest.
This is the basic zarda and it is mostly served slightly warm. Garnish with chopped almonds,coconut shavings, chopped pista and raisins. For more panache, add some crumbled khoya and arrange colored rus gullay/chum chum. Serve with dairy cream.
This playfully colorful, pleasantly sweetened and wonderfully fragrant rice dessert is a gem of our Pakistani cuisine.
- 500 gm sella rice, washed and soaked for at least 20-30 minutes
- water for boiling rice
- 2-3 green cardamoms
- 2-3 cloves
- 1 inch stick cinnamon
- 1 flower star anise
- ½-1 tsp zarda food color
- ¼ cup ghee
- 2 green cardamoms
- 500 gm sugar
- 2 tsp yogurt or milk
- chopped nuts and raisins, as required
- khoya, as required
- small rus gullay/chum chum as required
In a big pot boil water with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick and star anise over medium high flame.
When comes to a rapid boil, add color.
Add soaked rice to the boiling water.
Stir, let boil completely, about 20 minutes, depending on the quality and quantity of the rice.
Once fully cooked, strain the rice in a colander, discarding water. Let rice drain well.
Rinse the pot used for boiling rice with water. Pat dry and place it over low medium flame.
Pour ghee and add cardamoms to ghee. Stir and let slightly fry, about 20-30 seconds or till cardamoms are fragrant.
Add sugar, spreading in an even layer.
Add in yogurt or milk. Mix and let sugar melt and form a thick syrup, about 3-4 minutes.
Once sugar is fully melted, add in strained rice. Give it a good stir.
Cover the pot with a lid. Turn the flame to lowest, place a simmer plate or tawa or a dry frying pan over the flame and place the pot over it.
Let it simmer for at least 30-40 minutes.
After 30-35 minutes, take the lid off and check if all moisture is absorbed.
Cover with the lid again and simmer for another five minutes. Then turn the flame off but do not uncover the pot for at least another five minutes. Stir to separate rice from clumping.
To serve, bring down to warm, toss in chopped nuts and raisins and stir. Serve with dairy cream.
Add rus gullay and crumbled khoya to make it fancier.
Melt the sugar completely before adding rice to the pot. Once rice are added, sugar will not melt any further and would add an unpleasant crunch to zarda.
Make sure the lid fits tightly to the pot otherwise it won't let zarda simmer well.