Food Talk

Zarda, aromatic sweet rice enriched with dried fruits and nuts, is a traditional dessert, says Pushpesh Pant

When one was a child, it was the zarda that intrigued one the most. Zarda was what father used to spike his pan with when his beloved ilayachidaana from perfumers M/s Ittada Khan Muttada Khan ran out of stock and zarda was also the aromatic sweet rice enriched with dried fruits and nuts that we drooled over when it was received as a welcome gift at Eid sent by Latif Miyan whose daughter-in-law cooked it superbly.

One felt blessed that his sons were our schoolmates. What compounded the confusion that egg yolk was referred to as zardi by the khansamah at the dak bungalow and our neighbour and family friend Mrs Wheeler, who had a gift for melodramatic narration, often told tales where the characters often had their faces ‘turned zard’ in terrible fear. It was many years later that the chromatic connection was unravelled. Zard is simply yellow — the kali patti tinted yellow becomes tobacco addicts’ zarda and the pallor of cheeks signifies fright or sickness — where ruddy pink of a healthy or bashful blush is lost. How else would you describe the sunny side up if not by referring to zardi?

Yellow is an auspicious hue — haldi tints the palms of the bride wishing her all the best in her marital life and the blooming mustard fields heralding the advent of spring announce the end of the freezing winter that numbs body and mind. No wonder that zarda is traditionally a joyous, celebratory dish. All festive feasts not long ago began with the first-blessed morsel provided by it with bismillah on the lips! While haldi provides the body of the hue and kesar sets the stage for sublime seduction of the senses.

Zarda has remained one of our favourite desserts and we have often wondered why it is prepared and served so seldom. It is easy to make at home, is refreshingly different from ready made rosogulla or gulabjamun or take away rasmalai and halwa be it gajar or mung dal. Even Awadhi gourmets who take pride in their exotic mujaafar and mujthanjan concede that zarda has an elegance that is difficult to match. Actually, none can graduate to these complex confections before mastering the basics of zarda. Once you do this, even left over rice can a la Chinese fried rice routinely be transformed into a palate-tingling dessert!


Rice (long-grained, preferably

basmati) 200 gm

Sugar 100 gm

Water `BD cup

A large pinch of saffron

(soaked in lukewarm milk)

Cashew nuts `BC cup

Raisins (soaked in water) 1 tbsp

Almonds (peeled and

slivered) 1 tsp

Pistachio nuts (slivered) `BD tsp

Green cardamoms

(crushed after peeling) 2-3

A few drops of kewara

essence (or 1 tsp rose water)

Chef’s special


Dissolve the sugar in water and heat to obtain the syrup ensuring that it does not become too thick. Pick and wash rice well, then soak in water for 30 minutes. Boil 1and a 1/2 cup of water in a pan, put the rice in it cook on medium heat uncovered. When just about done, remove from heat, drain the water taking care not to disturb the grains of rice. Now stir in the syrup crushed strands of saffron and gently turn the rice over with a wooden spatula. Sprinkle the raisins and cardamom. Cover and let it remain on very low flame, preferably over a pre-heated tawa for about 10 minutes. Garnish with almond slivers and pistachio nuts, enjoy hot or cold.