Sholeh Zard (Persian Rice Pudding)
This cozy dessert from Sara Mardanbigi and Edgar Rico, the owners of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas, is a take on sholeh zard, a loose, heavily spiced Persian rice pudding Ms. Mardanbigi grew up eating. It also borrows influence from the Mexican arroz con leche of Mr. Rico’s childhood. Their take is warm and smoky with black cardamom and saffron, velvety from egg yolks and butter, and has a savory finish. It calls for arborio rice instead of the usual basmati to add a slight chew, and strawberry powder instead of rosewater to provide similar floral notes with a punch of acid.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 1cup arborio rice, unrinsed
- 3cups whole milk
- 1cup heavy cream
- ½cup granulated sugar
- 1tablespoon pure vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean (see Notes)
- 1cinnamon stick
- 1black cardamom pod (see Notes)
- 1tablespoon ground turmeric
- 2saffron threads, preferably Persian, ground then stirred into 1 tablespoon water
- ⅛teaspoon kosher salt
- 3tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2large egg yolks
- 1teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1cup freeze-dried strawberries, finely ground
- ½cup coarsely chopped roasted salted pistachios
- Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
Step 1Bring 4 cups of water to a hard boil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over high heat. Add the rice and let it boil, stirring regularly, until the grains begin to soften around the edges but are still crunchy in the center, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the rice, but do not rinse it. Rinse the pot with cold water to cool it down, then return it to the stove.
Step 2To the rinsed pot, add the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon stick, cardamom, turmeric, saffron water and kosher salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You may be tempted to turn the heat up to make it boil faster — resist this urge. The goal is to let the spices slowly infuse the milk and cream, like a tea, for deep flavor.
Step 3Slowly stir in the rice, making sure the grains are all well coated. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer, stirring a few times to make sure the grains don’t stick to the bottom, until the mixture has the consistency of a loose pudding, 35 to 45 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, with the rice maintaining a slight chew.
Step 4Add the cubes of butter a few at a time, stirring to incorporate fully between each addition. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm, stirring regularly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. The consistency should be velvety.
Step 5Divide the sholeh zard among bowls, and divide the ground cinnamon, strawberry powder and pistachios — in that order — over the top of each one. The strawberry powder should be the thickest layer, covering the entire surface. Crown the bowls with a light sprinkling of flaky salt and serve.