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 the 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 colors and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at royal weddings & banquets. The empress brought revolutionary changes in every art form. She designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds. She also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which was actually a draft of Taj Mahal.

But Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. And the irony is that it is a tomb built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who was a granddaughter of Mirza Ghiyas Beg.

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Sweet saffron rice

Zarda Pulao (Saffron Pulao):

Interestingly zarda pulao was the most favorite rice dish f 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. 

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Spicy saffron rice

But the savory version is a simple yellow pulao with aromatic spices, fresh peas, and caramelized onions.

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Dinner with saffron rice

We can prepare Zarda pulao for any special occasion, or a birthday bash and serve with creamy dal and spicy gravy. We also offer saffron pulao to deities at home as a naivedyam and distribute it as prasadam during this Navarathri. Now the recipes for Zardao pulao (sweet version) & saffron pulao (savory version):

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Saffron rice as prasadam

Saffron rice recipes (sweet & savory versions):


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

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

Savory version:

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

Sweet version:

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

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

Cooking basmati rice:

  • 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.
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How to cook basmati rice

How to prepare 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.
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Saffron pulao

How to prepare Zarda pulao:

  • Heat a pan with ghee on low flame.
  • Add slivered almonds, pista & raisins and fry for few seconds.
  • Then 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.
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Sweet saffron rice

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  1. 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! ??

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

  3. Kashmiri saffron is one of the best saffron in the world
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  4. I don’t know if you have seen Darren and Linda’s IG posts a few weeks ago. We were in an Indian restaurant in Montreal and Linda took a pic of me while I was eating… Yep, saffron rice. Love it so much. Seriously, I could eat rice every day. Yours look delicious. Your pics are always very nice to look at by the way.

  5. Awesome and delicious Persian pulao and I will surely make it this week cause I too am an Irani and will go according to your recipe. Thanks for awesome presentation and u r amazing, Megala. Thanks again.

    1. Come over here, I would love to treat you with this delicious flavorful rice. 🙂

  6. Even though I have just eaten, Megala, your recipe makes me hungry for this fine cuisine..
    And what a wonderful study of history you’ve offered. Absolutely delightful..

    1. Thanks ! I’m just curious to learn your version of saffron rice, may I ask you to post the recipe in your blog?

  7. Informative and interesting post and two fab recipes. I didn’t know these details about Empress Noor Jahan or that she was very talented.No wonder Emperor Shah Jahan loved her so much.

    1. Noor jahan was an intelligent & courageous woman, she was even good at hunting tigers, she was also exceptionally talented in music, poetry, painting, etc. (the list is endless). But she was infamous for controlling the king Jahangir (father of Shahjahan) as well as the state administration.
      Thanks Sheela!

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