I don’t think there’s anyone in Pakistan who does not have some grandmother or aunt with an unhealthy obsession with making zarda — that sweet yellow rice that is not what you need after a heavy meal of … well, savoury rice!
My appreciation for it grew after having my Nani’s zarda every time I came over for chai — which was every afternoon! Here is a version of her recipe modernised by my twists of rainbow hues and the use of candied fruits such as cherries and peel. Omit the Ashrafis and try this fruity cirtus-y version.
Basmati Rice 1-1/2 cups
Ghee 2 tbsp
Water 1-1/4 cup
Caster Sugar 1-1/2 cups
Food Colours Green, Blue & Red
Khoya 1 tbsp (optional)
Spices, nuts and fruit:
Green Cardamom Pods 5-7
Mixed Dried Fruit 3 tbsp
Glass Cherries 1 tbsp
Candied Peel 1/2 tbsp
Dessicated Coconut 1 tbsp
Pinch Saffron 1 large
1. In a saucepan add water, 3-4 cloves and 3 cardamom pods and boil. Add rice and half boil. Then strain the rice and keep aside.
2. Now heat ghee in a dry saucepan, add remaining cloves and cardamom, add the measured 1 1/4 cup water and sugar and make into a thin syrup. (The sugar may crystallise when you add water and sugar in ghee, but not to worry, it all dissolves!)
3. Add the half-boiled rice and nuts to this thin syrup and stir. The water should just about cover the rice. Cover the saucepan and turn heat down completely low. Check every 5 minutes, stir gently and cover again. Keep doing this until the rice is nearly cooked through.
4. Once nearly done, pour in the saffron, dribble the food colour sparingly here and there (try not to mix the colours, as they all land up turning brown). Keep heat on low, cook covered for another few minutes. The rice should be completely cooked through but not soft or mushy.
5. Serve in a bowl topped with candied peel, glaze cherries, coconut and khoya, if desired.
Preparation and cooking time: About 30 minutes soaking rice prior to cooking, prep and cooking about 25 minutes. Serves about 3-6 people.
Sumayya Jamil is a lawyer-turned-food writer and cookery teacher in London, who is on a mission to promote the love of Pakistani food in the UK. She blogs at pukkapaki.com
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, September 2nd, 2012.
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