Saffron Rice

Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.

But the irony is that Taj Mahal is regarded by UNESCO as one of the universally admired masterpieces of world’s heritage, and it is also a tomb built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal who was a granddaughter of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. Interestingly zarda pulao was the most favorite rice dish of emperor Shah Jahan.


Indian zarda pulao, or Persian zafrani polow (zafrani means saffron, polow means rice) is like a sweet biryani prepared by cooking long grains of colorful rice along with dry fruits, candied fruits, and spices like saffron, cardamom, etc. in dum process.  But savory saffron rice is a simple yellow pulao garnished with caramelized onions.


We can prepare saffron rice for any special occasion, or a birthday bash and serve with creamy dal and spicy gravy.


We can also offer saffron rice as a prasadam during this Navarathri.


Now the recipe for saffron rice:


  • 1 cup of Basmati rice
  • A generous pinch of saffron*
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 cardamoms

*I soaked saffron strands in 2 tbsp of water in the previous night for the deep color.

Savory rice:

  • 1 tsp of ghee
  • A few cashew nuts
  • A handful of boiled peas
  • Fried onions as desired
  • ½ tsp of salt

Sweet rice:

  • 1 tsp of ghee
  • Slivered almonds & pistachios
  • A few raisins
  • ¾ cup of palm sugar
  • Candied orange peel
  • Candied cherries
  • Candied pear
  • ½ tsp of rose water
  • 2X1″ paneer (or tofu) cube*

*Traditional recipe calls for khoya (mawa), but I used paneer to make it light.

Rice preparation:

  • Wash rice and add into a sauce pan along with star anise, cardamom & 3 cups of water.
  • Cook the rice for 7 minutes and then drain the water completely.
  • Spread the cooked rice on a large plate as shown below and leave aside.

Savory saffron rice:

  • Heat a pan with ghee in low flame.
  • Fry star anise & cashew nuts until cashews turn golden.
  • Add boiled peas, rice, saffron soaking water and salt into the pan.
  • Mix well until each grain is stained with saffron.
  • Remove from heat.

Sweet saffron rice:

  • Heat a pan with ghee in low flame.
  • Add slivered almonds, pista & raisins and fry for few seconds.
  • Add cooked rice, saffron soaking water and palm sugar.
  • Mix well until sugar is melted.
  • Add candied fruits, rose water & shredded paneer and mix together.
  • Close the pan with its lid (for 10 mins.) allowing the flavors permeated into the rice.
  • Now Zarda pulao is ready to serve.

111 Comments Add yours

  1. A rich meal indeed! Loved the history behind both the delicacies, Megala, and they are sure super easy too!

    1. Megala says:

      Yes, easy & tasty rice! Thanks!

  2. Rupali says:

    Looks tempting.

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you!

  3. Beautiful rice dish both sweet and savoury! Love the story!😍

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you!

  4. Sweet safron rice is such a necessity . Love your version

    1. Megala says:

      Hope you would try sometime. Thank you.

  5. yasir wani says:

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  6. Julie Zimmer says:

    Thanks for sharing these fragrant basmati rice recipes!

    1. Megala says:

      I’m so glad that you liked them, thanks!

  7. kayscorah says:

    as always, the story is as beautiful as the recipe.

    1. Megala says:

      Glad you feel so, thank you.

  8. Hope you are doing great, I have nominated you for sunshine blogger award

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you so much!

  9. Ramyarecipes says:

    Such a magnificent presentation, I love both rice dishes and tempting too😋👍👌

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you! 🙂

  10. Mouthwatering recipe….

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you.

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