Nov 19, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Turkish Saffron Rice Pudding

Anissa Helou's Turkish Saffron Rice Pudding. Photo by Linda Pugliese.

Turkish Saffron Rice Pudding from Sweet Middle East by Anissa Helou, Chronicle Books, 2015.


Yield: 6 servings

Rice pudding is common across the Middle East and North Africa, with each country having its own variation. The Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, and Moroccans prepare it with milk, while the Turks and Iranians have a less creamy but equally luxurious version served at weddings and circumcisions that is flavored with saffron, the world’s most expensive spice. In Turkey, the pudding is called zerde, from the Persian shol-e zard, and unlike the others, it is made with just water. Here, you can use either short-grain rice for a more mushy texture that resembles con- gee, or the superior Calasparra (paella) rice, which retains its shape even when cooked for a long time. Made with the latter, your pudding will have more texture, with the grains remaining separate even when very soft. You can store the ungarnished rice pudding, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

  • 2 Tbs rose water
  • 3.8 oz/110 g Calasparra rice or other short-grain rice
  • 6.17 oz/175 g superfine sugar
  • 1 Tbs slivered almonds
  • 1 Tbs slivered or chopped pistachios, plus more for garnish
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional) 

1. Put the saffron threads to soak in the rose water.

2. Rinse the rice under cold water to get rid of some of the starch and put in a saucepan. Add 40.57 liq oz/1.2  lt water and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Add the sugar. Turn the heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice has expanded and is very soft.

 3. Add the nuts, saffron-rose water mixture, and another 2 liq oz/60 ml water. Simmer for another 5 minutes. The rice should be like a thin porridge; it will thicken as it sits. Divide equally among six individual bowls or pour into one large serving bowl. Let cool to serve at room temperature, garnished with more pistachios and pomegranate seeds, if desired.


Click here to read more about this and related recipes in the article "A Perfumed Journey."

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