Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts (Holi Special)

Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts is a traditional Indian rice dish that’s absolutely aromatic and infused with saffron, dry fruits, ghee, sugar and rose-water. Every bite is filled with so much flavor that not only satisfy’s your taste-buds but the soul too. It’s popular for weddings, festivals or special occasions, is gluten-free and can be made vegan.

zarda-pulao-recipe #holi #recipe“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul – Dorothy Day” and every bite of this ‘Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts’ feeds not only our taste buds but also the soul. Hello Everyone, today I’m sharing one such traditional Indian recipe that’s specially made for celebrations, be it a festival, wedding or just about celebrating life. I’ll be making this very shortly for a ‘Festival of Holi’ brunch at our place. As many of you would be aware, Holi is one of the biggest Indian festivals and also know as Festival of Color / Festival of Love all over the world and this time it’s on Monday – March 13, 2017. Meethe-Chawal-recipeAnd every year, I try to cook 1 or 2 recipes that are as colorful as our festival but using all natural ingredients. So, this year, it’s ‘Zarda’, is actually a Persian word which means the color yellow and the recipe evolved during the Mughal period in India. Now, since, it’s a Mughal period dish and like most dishes of that time, it’s also made using lots of ghee, milk, and nuts. But we are definitely going to make a slightly healthier or a lighter version. sweet-rice-pulao-recipeThis dish is very popular in the Northern States of India like UP, Punjab, Bihar, Uttarakhand and more. In earlier years, it was also a sort of mandatory/very popular dish in weddings/festivals because of its of three main things – Color (Saffron/Turmeric) considered pure and auspicious, Rice – considered to be holy/prosperous and Sweetness (Jaggery/Sugar) – again considered auspicious and supposed to be the first meal in such occasion. So, you can imagine, every wedding that our great-grandparents would have attended, they would have tasted this sweet preparation. I feel it was also popular those days cause there was no electricity or fridge to store sweets (that goes bad easily) and this recipe can easily be kept outside for 1-2 days. indian-dessert-holi-recipeNow, let’s get to the recipe and make this delicious Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts. As the name suggest, we need rice, basmati preferably but you can use other long grain rice too (I wouldn’t recommend any thick sticky rice as this will turn all mushy). Next, comes saffron and a little bit of turmeric to achieve this gorgeous yellow color (you can add/remove as per your choice), then we need ghee and milk or khoa to saute the nuts + spices. Lastly, we need some rose-water to give it this delicate flowery fragrance and also adds to that fresh taste. Now, since I’m making it for Holi and needed some more color, I’m topping it with pomegranate seeds, but you may completely skip this step if need be or if unable to find pomegranate. indian-zarda-pulao-recipeOnce we have all the ingredients, let’s talk about the cooking method and you can cook it 2 ways:

Method 1:
Cooking the rice in a deep dish or dutch ovens/pan : you boil the rice in water and saute the nuts separately in the mixture of ghee+milk. Then add the cooked rice to this mixture and cook for 10 minutes.

Method 2:
Cooking the whole dish in a pressure cooker : you saute the nuts in ghee, then saute the rice in the mixture, add water and steam till 3-4 whistles.

I usually prefer ‘ Method 1’ as it adds much more flavor to the dish and the rice comes out all separate but I’ve cooked using the ‘Method 2’ as well when I’m in a hurry. So pick your choice of method and this festive season or for any of your celebrations, try this ‘Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts’ as I’m sure it will guarantee you tons of applauds and some very happy – satisfied souls. Until Next Time-easycookingwithmolly

Yields 4 People

Zarda – Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts

10 minPrep Time

15 minCook Time

25 minTotal Time

Save Recipe


1 Cup Basmati Rice - Washed and soak for for 15-20 minutes

3 Cups Water - to cook the rice

1/2 Cup Milk

Few Strands of Saffron

1/2 Tsp Turmeric - you can skip this is you want light yellow color

4 Tbsp Ghee

1 Tbsp Green Cardamom - slightly crushed

3 Cloves

1 Stick of Saffron

Pinch of Nutmeg

1/4 Cup Sugar

1 Tbsp Rose Water

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Seeds - for decoration

Nut Mix: you can skip or add any of the nut mix

1/4 Cup Almonds - slivered

2 Tbsp Pistachio - slivered

3 Tbsp cranberries - you can add raisins instead

2 Tbsp Dried Apricots - thinly sliced

2 Tbsp Melon Seeds - can skip


    Make the Rice:
  1. In a large pan (dutch oven), add 3 cups water and place on high heat.
  2. Add 1 tsp almond, 3-4 cardamom, 1 clove and rice.
  3. Stir this mix and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook till the rice is properly cooked. (takes about 10 minutes)
  5. Drain any water that's left after cooking the rice and keep aside.
  6. In a small bowl, heat the milk in microwave for 10 seconds.
  7. Then add saffron and let it mix.
  8. Roast the Nuts:
  9. In a large non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsp ghee.
  10. Add cinnamon stick, cardamom, clove and saute for 20 seconds.
  11. Now add all the nuts and saute for a minute over low heat. (Once the nuts are heated in ghee, it will dispense a sweet aromatic flavor).
  12. Now, add turmeric and saute again.
  13. Add the cooked rice and gently mix everything together.
  14. Let the rice and nut mixture cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes (keep sauteeing every minute).
  15. Now, add the saffron milk, sugar and saute everything evenly.
  16. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes.
  17. Turn off the heat.
  18. Drizzle the rose water all over the Zarda/Sweet Rice and cover the dish again (let the rice absorb the rose water).
  19. Serving the Dish:
  20. Remove the pot cover.
  21. Using a fork, fluff the rice and transfer to a serving dish.
  22. Add pomegranates and some mixed nuts.
  23. Serve Hot.
Cuisine: Indian | Recipe Type: Dessert
214 cal
15 g
16 g
2 g

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20 Replies to "Zarda - Indian Sweet Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Nuts (Holi Special)"

  • comment-avatar
    [email protected] March 3, 2017 (1:57 pm)
    This is a must try! I love rice pilaf but I have never tried sweet pilaf. It sounds delicious. Reminds me of the roti that I used to get at an Indian restaurant in England that had currants in the middle. I haven't had it here in the U.S.
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 3, 2017 (3:14 pm)
      Thanks Michelle. It's a very traditional pilaf and one of those gem recipes that tastes absolutely fantastic. Hope you try it soon n thanks for visiting :)
  • comment-avatar
    Tina Dawson | Love is in my Tummy March 3, 2017 (3:39 pm)
    That looks sooo colorful Molly! I've never tasted anything like it... it's like a sweet pulao! :)
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:02 am)
      Thank you Tina, you gotta try it soon :)
  • comment-avatar
    Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy March 4, 2017 (1:50 pm)
    I have never had a sweet rice, other than in rice pudding. Love the colours of this dish. All the fruit and spices sound wonderful together. We do like rice, so I will have to give this a try.
  • comment-avatar
    Kate March 4, 2017 (6:25 pm)
    This sounds delicious! I've never tried a sweet rice but I think I'm definitely gonna have to give cooking this a go. Thanks for sharing! xKate
  • comment-avatar
    Christine - Jar Of Lemons March 4, 2017 (7:31 pm)
    My husband and I have been craving Indian food for quite awhile, now! Definitely want to try this recipe out. Saving for sometime soon!
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:38 am)
      That would be great Christine - Thanks.
  • comment-avatar
    Marlynn | UrbanBlissLife March 4, 2017 (11:29 pm)
    Beautiful! I appreciate how you offer two different methods to cook this. The nut mix sounds delicious too!
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 5, 2017 (2:11 am)
      Thanks Marlynn. I love the nut mix with this combination :)
  • comment-avatar
    Byron Thomas March 5, 2017 (1:02 pm)
    Ok, Molly, the next time I'm in California, I'm coming to your house for dinner, and I want an exact replica of this dish. It looks gorgeous and sounds wonderful. And, extra turmeric for me please, I love the deep yellow colour!
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:04 am)
      Aweee, Absolutely Byron! You're MOST Welcome to drop in anytime and I'll surely treat you to this exotic dish with extra turmeric :)
  • comment-avatar
    Veena Azmanov March 5, 2017 (2:02 pm)
    One of my favorite Indian rice is Zafrani Pulao and this looks similar. I love the color and the addition of pomegranate seeds. So pretty
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:05 am)
      Yes, it's very similar to Zafrani Pulao with a little bit of ingredient changes. I'm glad you liked it :)
  • comment-avatar
    Megan Marlowe March 5, 2017 (2:59 pm)
    I feel like this rice is tantalizing all of my taste buds right now. I'm not sure what I'm most excited about; the aromatic spices, the saffron or the dried fruit. Molly this dish is stunning!
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:39 am)
      Thanks Megan, glad you liked the recipe.
  • comment-avatar
    Donna March 6, 2017 (12:06 am)
    These colors are just amazing Molly - they look so so festive!! This isn't something I have ever tried before, but it sounds so good and I am now so intrigued I will have to whip up a bowl soon. Just beautiful
    • comment-avatar
      Molly Kumar March 6, 2017 (2:01 am)
      Thank you so much Donna. It's one of my fav recipe for the festival of color (Holi) as it just totally owns the theme and tastes out of this world.

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