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A Soothing Persian Rice Pudding for Ramadan

As the fasting month comes to a close, one writer reflects on the foods that bolster.

Three bowls of yellow-tinged rice pudding.
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Every year, there are a handful of telltale signs that Ramadan has arrived in our home: fingers running through rice in a bowl full of water, washing and rewashing at least five times to get rid of the starch; a couple of ice cubes, melting with golden saffron brew; rose water and cardamom pods, carefully placed on a tray with slivered almonds, awaiting their turn.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, falling on different dates each year since the Islamic calendar differs a little from the Gregorian calendar. Muslims observe Ramadan as a month to reflect, to focus on spirituality, and to engage with their communities. It’s also a holy month during which those who observe refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.

As this year’s fasting comes to a close, I reflect on the food that’s given me strength. Ramadan always has its own delicious, majestic foods that aren’t as common in other months of the year. Each country and family has their own favorite meals which help them stay hydrated and energetic during the day while they’re fasting.

In Iran, for instance, families will have sahur (the meal before sunrise) and iftar (the meal at sunset) together. For sahur, rice is always a staple in a Persian household as it keeps one full for a long time. Served with some chicken, lamb, or beef, humble rice can turn into a mighty meal to finish before the sun rises. Some of the common dishes served for sahur are Kabab Tabei and Lubia Polo (Persian green bean rice). For times when we want to take a break from meat, Persian One-Pot Tomato Rice or Mujadara are good choices because they’re packed with nutrients that keep us full during the day.

When it comes to iftar, the preparation starts a few hours beforehand by washing fruit, brewing tea, making some food including soups or frittatas, and finally, setting the table. Iftar can be as simple as a breakfast spread, with bread, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and tea or it can be as big as a feast. This completely depends on the family, their traditions, and their budget. But there’s always dates at an iftar spread because of its nutrients and sweetness; it’s one of the best items to break the fast with. In my family, we usually serve a light meal at iftar alongside some bread, cheese, herbs, walnuts, and dates.

One common recipe that’s made during Ramadan is [Sholeh Zard], a Persian saffron rice pudding that’s flavored with saffron, rosewater, and cardamom. My mother used to make this dessert often because it was a favorite in our home. The rice has been cooked long enough that it has almost turned into pudding. Then, sugar, saffron, and cardamom are added and just a few minutes before the heat is turned off, the rosewater follows. We divide the rice pudding among serving cups or bowls and top it with cinnamon.

Although Sholeh Zard is mostly served cold, I always love mine warm because I find that the heat soothes my fasting body very well. Which is why I always keep some of it in a saucepan for myself so I can heat it before serving. Whether you eat it warm or cold, this Persian saffron rice pudding is the definition of happiness in each and every spoonful.

Ramadan teaches us every year to be thankful for what we have, to be patient when times are hard. A basic item like water, or rice, can become unbelievably precious if you’re fasting in the summer, and that teaches us to be grateful for every little thing that life gives us.

Sholeh Zard (Persian Saffron Rice Pudding)

Serves 4.

• 1 cup jasmine rice
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 8 cups water
• 1 teaspoon ground saffron
• 3 ice cubes
• 3 cardamom pods
• 1/4 cup rose water
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon

See the full recipe on Food52.

More from Food52:
18 Recipes for Eating Well (And Feeling Strong!) During Ramadan
Apple Kesari Bhaat/Sweet Saffron Rice with Apples
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A Comforting Rice Porridge With Many Faces, Many Names
The Surprisingly Little-Known History of White Rice in Korea
The Absolute Best Way to Cook Brown Rice, According to an Expert