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. krcc says:

    i had no idea saffron cost so much until a friend needed in a recipe and we went to the only indian store here. a small packet was $25. she didnt get it.
    this rice looks delish even before u had added the other ingredients! 👐💖

    1. Megala says:

      Thank you so much!

  2. Becca says:

    Hello. I find it interesting the way you tell a story at the begining of every recipe.

    1. Megala says:

      I’m so glad to hear this, thanks for stopping by!

  3. Lady Oscar says:

    Rice is my another favorite (besides dumplings~) ^^
    I love all kind of fried rice and steam rice. This is an amazing recipe, yet easy to prepare. Thank you for the wonderful, cultural sharing. do appreciate it!

    1. Megala says:

      You are most welcome! I wish you could try once mainly to enjoy the aroma of saffron. 🙂

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