Zarda or Meethe chaawal
Meethe chaawal / Zarda / Sweet Saffron Rice

As an Asian, in particular - a Tambrahm, my love for rice needs no reason, excuse or introduction. If I am told, "you really love rice, don't you?", I simply say, "Well, I am Tamilian." That justifies it all. Try as much, you can't shake off those genes and years of rice and rasam in one lifetime that easily! Given a choice between wheat and rice, I dive straight for rice, throwing the nutritionist's advice to the winds! It is this addiction that leads me to keep trying desserts that are made with rice. A whole month dedicated to rice at beyond curries gave me a chance to share this wonderful recipe I was introduced to by my neighbour.

My neighbour, M, makes meethe chaawal during Navratri, Diwali and other festivals. My version is a vegan and low-sugar version, and I make it at the slightest pretext - rainy days, Sundays, weekdays, sudden guests, whatever! I warned you - I am addicted. And I would love you to get as addicted as I am.

About the dish:
Many Indian dishes bear their origins to Mughals. The dish we know as 'meethe chaawal' is one such. Meethe chaawal is known as 'zarda' in Pakistan and gets its name due to the yellow colour of the dish, from the Persian word 'zarda' which means yellow. It is served on special occasions and is made traditionally using clarified butter or ghee. I am not in favour of artificial or store bought food colourings and hence use only saffron (kesar or zafran), but these days meethe chaawal comes in a sprinkling of colours, so if you would like to go ahead, then colour it wild. (as wild as green, yellow or orange can get!). This is a popular dessert in the Indian regions of Punjab, Sindh and Rajasthan.

Those who are vegetarian can substitute coconut milk with milk. Even if you use water instead of milk the taste will be good but I recommend coconut milk as it only tastes much, much better than milk, and that is not an exaggeration!

Recipe: Meethe chaawal ~ Zarda ~ Saffron Rice Dessert
Preparation Time : 20 mins, excluding soaking time for rice
Serves : 3 persons
Recipe Level: Very Easy/ Beginner
Recipe/Post by: Sunshinemom

1 level cup, basmati rice or any long grained rice, soaked for at least 30 minutes in water
3/4 cup Sugar
1 vanilla pod, scraped (optional)
A few strands of good quality saffron / kesar / zafran
1 + 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup light coconut milk (second extract)
4 Nos. Chhoti elaichi / Green cardamom, crushed roughly
4 Cloves / Laung
1 Bayleaf / Tejpatta (Optional)
3 tbsps. any neutral oil such as sunflower (vegetarians may use ghee)
1tbsp each of fried split cashew nuts, slivered almonds, pistachios and fried raisins

Zarda or Meethe chaawal
Meethe chaawal / Zarda / Sweet Saffron Rice

Method to prepare:
  1. Preparing the rice: Pick and rinse rice, soaking it in just enough water for at least 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Soak the saffron strands in coconut milk and set aside till needed.
  3. Prepare a syrup with 1/2 cup water and sugar heating till the sugar just dissolves completely.
  4. In a pressure cooker heat 2 tbsps. of oil/ghee and when warm add crushed cardamom, cloves, bay leaf. Saute till aromatic. Now add drained rice and saute for two minutes till the rice is coated with the oil and the spices are evenly distributed.
  5. Add 1 cup of water and the saffron soaked coconut milk. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the mixture. Stir well and when it comes to a boil add the sugar syrup and stir for a minute. Put the lid on and cook with the weight for exactly 4 minutes on high fire. Reduce to sim and let cook for another 5 minutes. Put off fire.
  6. Let the cooker cool naturally. This should take about 15-20 minutes. Open and stir gently with a fork to fluff the rice. It may be a little sticky but by the time you reach your dessert course it will cool down and separate, that is if you cooker behaves like mine!
  7. Before serving stir in the dry fruits and raisins.
  8. If you are not using a cooker then proceed upto 5. Cook on reduced heat, stirring gently till the water is absorbed. If needed you may add a tsp. of ghee or oil in the end. Not necessary but if it makes you feel better, go ahead.
Zarda or Meethe chaawal

Special Notes/Tips:
  • Every cooker behaves differently. Time it the same as you will for a pulav or biryani. The rice should be just cooked and the grains separate.
  • Sugar can be increased to one cup if you have a sweet tooth but this is perfect measure for my family.
  • This tastes best served at room temperature.
  • If you are having guests over have a second helping ready. It is quite delightful.

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  1. Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal // 24 June 2010 at 09:14  

    That looks wonderful and I love your presentation in that little cute silver bowl :)

  2. Nithya // 24 June 2010 at 09:47  

    Great looking rice dear. I love the clicks and its so true that tamilians love rice :)

  3. Madhuri // 24 June 2010 at 10:09  

    Looks divine.Nice photograph. Well done!

  4. collin // 24 June 2010 at 13:13  

    Wow!! looks nice. I love desserts. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I will surely try this out.

    Take the Dessert Personality Test and find out your personality on the basis of your favorite dessert. I have taken the test and have enjoyed a lot. Hope you too will enjoy it. Have Fun!!

  5. BangaloreBaker // 25 June 2010 at 01:35  

    Beautiful presentation. We make something that we call 'Thenga Vellu saadu' I am an Iyengar from karnataka, so pardon my Tamil. Your post reminded me of that and now I need to make it soon.

  6. meeso // 25 June 2010 at 02:20  

    Yum, I can almost smell the rice! Especially with that vanilla bean :)

  7. Fathima // 25 June 2010 at 11:51  

    the meethe chawal looks great... love ur presentation and clicks! Hats off!

  8. Rachana // 27 June 2010 at 03:50  

    Wow! The rice looks so tempting and it has two of my very favourite ingredients, vanilla and saffron :-)

  9. Shabs.. // 28 June 2010 at 19:20  

    Looks real good...nice pic too.