Zarda is a traditional sweet rice dessert originated from the Mughals. The name Zarda is derived from the Persian and Urdu term “Zard” meaning yellow. The dish gets its name as it is prepared using yellow color. (Source:wiki) Zarda also known as meethe chawal is usually prepared during special occasions like weddings, festivals and celebrations.
What is zarda?
Zarda is a dessert made with long grain fragrant rice, ghee, spices, yellow color, sugar, mawa & lots of dry fruits. It is usually served as an after meal dessert.
The use of good quality ingredients & the right cooking technique helps to make a flavorful and delicious Zarda.
Rice: Using good quality aged basmati rice is very much essential here as it does make a lot of difference to the final dish. The rice grains in a well-made zarda do not turn mushy yet every grain is fully cooked.
Ghee is another key ingredient used to make an aromatic and delicious zarda. Using good quality ghee is important. Authentic and traditional zarda uses a generous amount of ghee which also gives it the glossy look.
Color: I have used saffron here as I do not use food colors. You may use either. But saffron also adds flavour to the dish. Some people also add different colors to make the zarda multi coloured.
Flavoring: Ingredients like cardamoms, cloves and saffron are used for flavouring.
Mawa adds richness to the dish. If you do not have just skip it.
Tips to make good zarda
Cooking rice in lots of water until 95% is the most important step. The rice has to be well cooked fully, not mushy and not raw inside. If you undercook the rice then the grains will turn hard after adding to the syrup.
Draining and cooling rice immediately is another key step. This not only firms up the grains a bit but also prevents from turning mushy when added to the sugar syrup.
Add the rice to the sugar syrup only when the sugar syrup reaches a 2 string consistency. If you add it earlier than this stage rice will get over cooked and turn mushy.
Generous amount of ghee – Zarda made during special occasions has a lot of ghee in it. Be generous and use a good amount if you are making for a special occasion.
Do not add a lot of mawa, it makes the rice moist.
Ingredients (1 cup = 240ml )
- 1 cup basmati rice (or any premium rice)
- 5 cups water for boiling rice
- yellow food color as needed (or 3 pinches saffron or kesar)
- 4 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
- 4 cloves crushed
- 4 cardamoms crushed
- 2 to 3 tablespoons mawa (khoya or khoa) (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kewra water (optional)
For sugar syrup
- ¾ cup sugar (reduce 2 tbsps for moderate sweetness)
- 4 tablespoons water
Mix nuts & fruits (sliced)
- 8 almonds (badam) chopped
- 8 cashews (kaju) chopped
- 10 pistachios chopped
- 10 raisins
How to make the recipe
- Wash rice at least thrice and soak in lots of water for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, bring 5 cups water to a rolling boil in a large pot.
- Add food color or saffron. Drain the water from the rice and add it to the boiling water.
- Boil the rice until 95% cooked. Meaning the grains are just done, fully cooked and not mushy. If you undercook the rice here, the grains will turn hard later after adding to the sugar syrup. Press down a rice grain in between your fingers, it should get mashed well and not be hard.
- Immediately drain the rice completely and spread it wide in the colander itself. Cool down completely.
- When the rice cools down, add ghee to a wide pan and heat it.
- Fry the nuts until golden and then add the raisins. When the raisins turn plump, remove to a plate. Then add crushed cloves and cardamoms & fry for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Add sugar and then 4 tbsps water. Stir well.
- Cook this until the sugar melts and syrup comes to a 2 string consistency. To check this cool a bit of syrup and take it in between your thumb and forefinger. When you gently separate the fingers you should see 2 strings.
- Add the cooled rice and mix gently to coat it well with the syrup. Level the rice on top.
- Layer the mawa and nuts over the zarda.
- Cover the rice and keep it on a low flame to dum for 10 mins. Rest for another 15 mins. Zarda will be perfectly done. If you still see moisture at the bottom, then dum cook for longer.
NUTRITION (estimation only)
- Make sure you use a wider pan or pot for the tempering. As the moisture from sugar evaporates quickly, zarda will not turn mushy.
- Adding more mawa in the recipe may make the dish moist.
- If you are not using mawa, then you can use little more ghee.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
If you are new to cooking, follow my detailed step by step photo instructions for best results.
1.Wash rice at least thrice and soak it in lots of water for 30 minutes. After 30 mins drain the water from the rice.
2.Bring water to a rolling boil in a large pot.
3.Add food color or saffron. Add the drained rice to the boiling water.
4. Cook the rice to 95% done meaning it is fully cooked and not mushy. When you press down the grain in between your fingers it must get mashed well. The grains must be completely cooked and not remain raw inside otherwise they will turn hard after adding to the sugar syrup.
5.Immediately drain the rice completely & spread it wide in the colander itself. Cool it down completely.
How to make zarda rice pulao
6.Once the rice cools, add ghee to a wide pan and heat it on a medium heat.
7. Fry the chopped nuts until golden and then add the raisins. When the raisins turn plump, remove to a plate and keep aside. Then add crushed cloves and cardamoms.
8. Add sugar and then pour 4 tbsps water. Stir well until the sugar dissolves. You can also make this in a separate small pan.
9.Cook this until the syrup comes to a 2 string consistency. To check this cool a bit of syrup. Then take it in between your thumb and forefinger. When you gently separate the fingers you should see 2 strings.
10. Add the cooled rice.
11.Mix gently to coat it well with the syrup. Level the rice on top.Layer the mawa, fried nuts and raisins over the zarda. I also poured 1 tbsp of ghee as I added a bit less to the tempering.
12.Cover the rice and keep it on a low flame to dum (steam) for 10 mins. Turn off and rest for another 15 mins. I mixed up the mawa and then kept it for dum. I felt the mawa released a bit more moisture due to this. So mix it later after the dum.
13. Zarda will be perfectly done. Cool down a bit and serve.
Garnish with more nuts and raisins.