Pandora`s Box
 On my last visit to Iran, when my cousin asked me if I would like to accompany her to the town of Ghaen, on which she was thinking of doing her thesis, I agreed half heartedly. She woke me at the break of dawn and we had a quick breakfast of noon o paneer (bread and cheese) with some steaming hot coffee. Driving for hours on the end, accompanied by unchanging, somewhat barren scenery is hardly inspiring.

Just as I was starting to curse myself for having agreed to come, we came upon a hill, and my cousin asked me to look down from it. As I half dragged myself out of the car, numb legs and all, I saw the most magnificent of sights. For a while there I thought it was some kind of a mirage. Rows upon rows of deep purple crocus flowers. I later found out, that knowing my love for all things saffron, cousin had deliberately postponed her trip till I came over so she could show me this splendor. That's when she told me that Ghaen is also called, Saffron city.

 I was gobsmacked at how something so beautiful can grow out from a land so barren. There is an old saying in this area that roughly translates to," Saffron chooses it's own land". We came across a group of women laughing and chattering away like blackbirds clad in flowing chadors. Among the beautiful flowers and laughter, you almost forget just how hard and backbreaking this work is.
Every flower has only three stigmas which is then plucked by hand and dried to become saffron.

We were then led inside into a large room where more women sat, sipping golden-sweet cardamom tea in tiny crystal glasses, and sharing village gossip all the while removing the scarlet stigmas that once dried, become saffron. When you see just how labor intensive this entire process is, you soon understand why saffron is the world's most expensive spice!
 With prices upto $315 per ounce for good quality saffron, it is called red gold for a very good reason.
My own humble purchase
Wonder how much this little heap is worth.....

It was then time for dinner, and we were served mounds of fragrant saffron rice and kebabs. I had died and gone to saffron heaven. 

Iran is the largest producer of Saffron with 93.7% of the world's total production. 

Heck they even have saffron creamsicles...

When I flew back home to Islamabad, I got busy in daily chores and forgot all about my precious purchase. It's only now, a few days back while going through the back of the kitchen pantry, that I rediscovered my little box of saffron and decided to use it to cook something. I came across a recipe for saffron rice pudding, sprinkled with powdered cinnamon, poetically named,  ''shole zard'' meaning yellow flame in Farsi. and thought I'll give it a shot. I had no idea the yield will be so generous as serving size was not mentioned.
excuse my messy garnishing skills. First time and all :)

Recipe for Shole Zard
1 1/2 cups Broken Rice (uncooked) 
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
1 tsp ground cardamom
ground cinnamon for garnish
ground pistachios for garnish
1/8th cup rose water 
1/4 tsp saffron crushed 
1/2 cup sugar or according to taste
8 cups water
2tbsp hot water
8 tbsp almond paste, or slivers if you want texture
Gently wash rice in water and repeat 4 to 5 times until the water runs clear. In a medium bowl, cover the washed rice with water and leave to soak for at least 4 hours. 
Take a big pot and fill it with 8 cups water add 1/4 tsp salt put in your drained rice and bring to a boil, skimming  the white foam from the surface as it forms. Cover and simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes or until rice becomes soft. Stir in sugar and cook for 20 minutes more uncovered and stirring constantly. 
While the rice is cooking, combine in a small bowl and reserve, 1/4 tsp saffron crushed in 2tbs hot water.
After the rice has cooked for 20 minutes, add your saffron, 1/4 cup butter, almonds, crushed cardamoms and rose water. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened to a pudding.
Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours. Serve cold garnished with cinnamon powder and crushed pistachios.


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