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Zarda: The Fragrant Sweet Rice of Festivities

Zarda, meethay chawal

Sweet, fragrant, and light, zarda is a rice dessert that’s popular all over the Indian subcontinent. Whether it’s Eid, Holi, or Diwali, no celebration is complete without a bright yellow pan of zarda. 

What is Zarda?

Zarda is a dish of sweetened rice that is served with several accompaniments on top ranging from roasted nuts to candied fruits, and gulab jamun to cham cham (an Indian sweet).

The word “zarda” is derived from the Persian word “zard” meaning “yellow”, and because this rice dish uses yellow food coloring, it is named “zarda”. In the Indian subcontinent, zarda is served traditionally after savory and spicy meals to cool down the palate. Zarda is a significant dish for festivities, and is cooked at holidays, weddings, and other celebrations.

Image Credit: Flickr user NA.dir ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

What does Zarda Taste Like?

Zarda is a sweet and fragrant rice dish. The rice grains are not cooked completely and are kept firm before being thoroughly coated with sugar syrup. Texture-wise, zarda is chewy due to the firm cooked rice, but also contains juicy and crunchy bites here and there due to the addition of candied fruits and roasted nuts. 

How to Cook Zarda?

To cook zarda, basmati or sella rice is half-boiled with water or milk. The rice is then transferred to another pot with desi ghee, sugar, cardamom, saffron or yellow food coloring, and kewra essence, and the mixture is steamed until the sugar dissolves. Once the rice is fully cooked such that each grain is separated, firm, and evenly coated with the thin sugary glaze, the zarda is ready to serve.

Image Credit: Flickr user NA.dir ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

How to serve Zarda?

Zarda can be served as it is, or it can be topped with Indian sweets like gulab jamun, cham cham, and other ingredients like candied fruits, roasted nuts, raisins, coconut chunks, and khoya (milk solids). Zarda is best accompanied with a hot cup of kahwah or green tea to end any meal or feast. Interestingly, it’s a common practice by locals attending festivals and celebrations to mix zarda with biryani to enjoy sweet, savory, spicy, and meaty flavors all at once.

Feature Image: Flickr user NA.dir ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

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