Learn how to make one of Pakistan’s most famous desserts: Zarda Rice!! Zarda is a type of Pakistani / Indian sweet rice or as we sometimes call them meethe chawal. Zarda can be quite often perceived as a finicky and difficult recipe to master, but trust me. It’s not as hard as it seems, and I’m going to show you how to make delicious Zarda step-by-step with pictures today.
Top it with some homemade Khoya, to take it to the next level!
About this Recipe
Zarda Rice A.K.A. Meethe Chawal is the quintessential Pakistani/Indian dessert made of sweet and fragrant yellow basmati rice loaded with crunchy nuts and chewy raisins. It is an easy dish to enjoy as an everyday treat, but it can be fancied up to impress your guests on any occasion!
Rice for dessert? That may sound weird to some, but don’t knock it until you try it! Meethe Chawal is one of our go-to desi sweets for dawats and holidays because it is very easy to make and looks so pretty too!
Just look at that sunny golden-colored rice flecked with crunchies and dried fruits- who can resist it? Plus, it is super delicious. The sugar-coated fluffy rice, crunchy nuts, and chewy raisins are indeed an awesome combination of flavor and texture. Make them together with some Date Rolls and Besan Ka Halwa and you’ll have a full-fledged Pakistani dessert table that will delight your guests to no end!
We love making our desi desserts at I Knead to Eat, and whether you’re hosting a dawat, or making something sweet for Eid or just want to satisfy your desi sweet cravings, we are at your service. Also try this Gajar Ka Halwa that's perfect for the winters.
First things first though, can we talk about how pretty this zarda looks? I love the bright sunny yellow and a sprinkle of delicious of dry fruit for added flavor and texture. Now let's get to the important stuff!
What is Zarda Rice?
Zarda like Shahi Tukda originated from the Mughal Indian era. The name Zarda is derived from the Persian word 'zard' which quite literally means yellow. It is also said to be Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s favorite dish and was often made at his request.
It is traditionally made of fluffy rice cooked with saffron and sugar syrup giving it that eye-catching hue and sweet flavor.
Cardamon, nuts, and dried fruits give it more flavor and texture. A popular variation of Zarda called Muntanjan is cooked with milk instead of water and is served with more yummy mixed-ins like dry fruit, khoya/mawa, colorful Ashrafi, gulab jamun, and ras gullas.
To be honest, I never liked Zarda as a kid. I mean, seriously who wants sweet rice. I mean it just sounds weird as a kid, right? But then, there are so many things I wouldn’t touch as a kid that I love now (8 year old me would never even taste karelay). But look at me now, loving Zarda and karelay. Omg, is the world ending?
Ingredients You'll Need
- Basmati rice- Sella basmati rice is the ideal type to use for this recipe, so use it if you can. However, feel free to use regular long-grain basmati rice if that is what you have, which I also use for my Biryani recipe. Do not use short-grain rice for this, they turn sticky and mushy when cooked.
- Nuts- I used slivered pistachios roughly chopped almonds, and roughly chopped cashew nuts. Feel free to use other types like macadamia, pecans, or walnuts. If you are allergic to nuts, try using sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
- Raisins- or use any type of dried fruits and berries you like.
- Spices- cardamoms add a citrusy and menthol-like flavor to the sugar syrup, while clove lavang brings in a touch of earthiness and warmth.
- Ghee- this is important if you want to make authentic-tasting Zarda. It will make the chashni (sugar syrup) a
silky and glossy finish.
- Sugar- you can use regular white refined sugar. You can also try using other organic cane, coconut, or date
- Water- to boil the basmati rice with and give the chashni a thinner consistency.
- Yellow food color- This is an optional ingredient, but this is what gives the Zarda its beautiful yellow hue. I used gel food coloring that I got from Wilton, but you may use Zarda rang if available, or regular liquid food coloring.
How to Make Zarda Rice
- Cook the Basmati Rice: In a large pot, bring the water to a boil, add the rice, and mix n the yellow food color. Cook until the rice is parboiled, about 3/4 cooked through then strain and set aside.
- Make the Chashni: In the same pot, add the ghee then roast the cardamom and clove for a minute or so, until fragrant. Add the sugar and water, and medium heat, gently stir until the sugar has completely
dissolved. See photos below, for reference.
- Combine: Once the sugar has dissolved, add the rice and mix so that the sugar syrup coats the rice evenly. Add the raisins, mix and cover the rice for a few minutes. Remove the lid, add the rest of the nuts, and mix them thoroughly.
- Steam cook: Deduce the heat of the stove to low, add a flat tawa and place the pot on it. Cover tightly, and let the rice complete cooking on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. Note: This process of cooking in steam is called ‘dum’ and the timings may vary until the rice is fully cooked through. However, the rice does need to be on dum for at least 15-20 mins, because the sugar needs to be absorbed entirely by the rice. If the rice is not steamed for the appropriate time, the rice will become hard.
Serve and Enjoy Once the rice is cooked, serve it in a bowl topped with more crushed nuts.
- Use milk instead of water. This will give the zarda a richer flavor! I sometimes just sprinkle my Zarda with a little bit of milk powder too, give it a try if you don’t find it weird.
- Some people also add kewra essence at the very end when the Zarda rice is cooked, but I usually don’t have any on hand so don’t add it to my zarda. This adds a nice floral flavor and sweet aroma.
- Add khoya or mawa. This is a popular dairy product widely used in Indian Subcontinental dishes. This will make the dessert creamier and richer. Do not add too much though, because it will affect the texture of the dish.
- Veganize it! All ingredients for this recipe are natural and plant-based except for ghee. If you are following a vegan diet, use avocado or coconut oil instead.
Helpful Tips & Tricks
- Do not cook the basmati rice fully, the key is to parboil it. As we say in urdu, aik kani chor ker boil karna (the same principle as with Biryani). It will continue to cook once you steam it. Take note that the cooking time may vary depending on the brand you are using, so make sure to check the package instructions.
- If you don’t want to use food coloring, then you can use saffron to achieve that pretty yellow/orange color. Just dissolve saffron in a little bit of water and instead of using food color when boiling the rice, add the saffron. However, saffron has a strong flavor, so it will add its flavor to the Zarda too.
- Drain the rice immediately after parboiling it. Do not let it sit in hot water or it will turn mushy.
- Cook the sugar syrup on low heat and continuously stir until the sugar particles have dissolved. Don’t do this on high heat, as sugar burns really fast.
It’s best to use Sella basmati rice, but I use regular long grain basmati rice and it works perfectly well in this recipe. However, if you do have sella rice then go for it when making Zarda.
You can pretty much add any type of dry fruit in zarda. I like to add raisins, pistachios, almonds and cashew nuts. Some people also add khoya or mawa once the Zarda is cooked which also adds delicious flavour to the zarda.
Other spices with similar flavor profiles are cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Technically, yes you can. However, take note that ghee has a higher burning point, while butter burns more quickly. Ghee is a clarified butter and is better for those with lactose
All ingredients should be naturally gluten-free!
More Delicious Pakistani Desserts
Zarda Rice Recipe
- 6 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice soaked for 30 minutes
- Few drops of yellow food cooler optional
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 4 cardamoms
- 1 clove lavang
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup assorted nuts (I used slivered pistachios roughly chopped almonds, and roughly chopped cashew nuts
- More nuts and raisins for topping if desired.
- In a large pot, bring the water to boil and then add the rice.
- Mix in the yellow food color if using.
- Cook until the rice is parboiled, about 3/4 cooked through.
- Immediately strain the rice and set aside.
- Now in the same pot (after draining the water), add the ghee.
- Add the cardamom and clove, and let them roast for a minute or so, until fragrant.
- Now add the sugar and water, and medium heat, gently stir until sugar has completely dissolved.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, add the rice and mix so that the sugar syrup coats the rice evenly.
- Add the raisins, mix and cover the rice for a few minutes.
- Remove the lid, and add the rest of the nuts, and mix them thoroughly.
- Now reduce the heat of the stove to low, add a flat tawa and place the pot on it. Cover tightly, and let the rice complete cooking on low heat for about 15-20 minutes.
- This process of cooking in steam is called ‘dum’ and the timings may vary until the rice is fully cooked through. However, the rice does need to be on dum for at least 15-20 mins, because the sugar needs to be absorbed completely by the rice. If the rice is not steamed for the appropriate time, the rice will become hard.
- Once the rice is cooked, serve it in a bowl topped with more crushed nuts.
month. To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight (if frozen). Warm it using the microwave or on the stovetop for a minute or two. If it has become too dry, add a splash of water to moisten it.