Zarda recipe: A luxurious Indian dessert for special occasions

Anyone attending a milad (religious gathering) or a Muslim wedding in the subcontinent would have come across this saffron-infused glistening dessert,” says chef Asma Khan.

“Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices, but you only need a little, and infusing it in warm milk is a very effective way to bring out its flavour. The addition of nuts gives this dessert a further luxurious touch. Definitely serve with some thick or clotted cream on the side.”

Zarda – sweet rice with saffron and nuts

Serves: 4-6


½ tsp saffron strands

2 tbsp milk

250g basmati rice

100g ghee or butter (or flavourless vegetable oil), plus extra for greasing

6 cloves

8 green cardamom pods

40g each shelled unsalted pistachios and unsalted blanched almonds, cut into thick slivers

30g dried apricots, cut into small cubes

150g granulated sugar

2 tbsp kewra (screwpine) water or rose water


1. Put the saffron in a small bowl, warm the milk to tepid and pour over the saffron strands.

2. Gently wash the rice in a large bowl with cold water (not under running water as this will break the tips of the rice, which will make the rice sticky). Change the water several times until it looks clear, then soak the rice in cold water for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours. Drain the rice well in a strainer.

3. Bring one-and-a-half-litres of water to the boil in a large pan. Add the rice once the water is boiling and boil until it is half done. It is hard to give an exact time for this as there are too many variables, but the way to check is to remove a single grain of rice from the hot water and squeeze it between your fingers – there should still be a hard core of slightly uncooked rice. Drain the half-cooked rice in a strainer and spread the rice thinly on a platter to cool and prevent it from continuing to cook.

4. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

5. Heat the ghee or butter in a heavy-based pan over a medium–high heat. Add the cloves and cardamoms, followed by the pistachios, almonds and apricots. Add 250ml of cold water and the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.

6. Butter a casserole dish and add the rice, then pour over the warm, spice-infused sugar syrup. Add the saffron-infused milk and stir gently to ensure the saffron is evenly distributed. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes.

7. Take the dish out of the oven. Gently fluff the rice, then re-cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove the foil and leave the dessert to stand for a few minutes.

8. Sprinkle the kewra or rose water over the warm rice before serving.

‘Ammu: Indian Home-Cooking To Nourish Your Soul’ by Asma Khan (published by Ebury Press, £26; photography by Laura Edwards), available now.

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