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
Directions:
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.

IMAGE COURTESY: BLOGGER'S OWN AND GOOGLE IMAGES



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27 Responses
  1. Su Says:

    Wow, what an inspiring post! It must have been magical to see the saffron and experience it right from the source. Very lucky indeed to have once in a life time (hope you get to go there again :)) opportunity like that!
    I love saffron myself. It is such a delicate flavour. I love what you have cooked. Awesome for first time and it looks so decorative! I bet it tastes wonderful. I'll surely give it a whip :)


  2. Fakhra's Says:

    Oh God, am Dead.... and Tun to see such beauty and the recipe make me,,,, hungry

    yum yum yum

    <3


  3. Rakhshanda Says:

    Wow this looks yumm! Thanks for sharing it...would love to visit Iran!!!


  4. waoo..what a yummy new blog! I am following now sweety :)


  5. Viya ;) Says:

    Woohooo... looovvee the new blog!! :D :D ..
    and firstly, when i saw the word Iran, I was like oh no.. not another post on war-torn country.. but as i saw the beauuttiiful purple pictures, i went on reading the post and oh man!! You captivated me with all the saffron story! :) I dint even know how Saffron was extracted.. Thank you sooo much shaz!! :) :) Another beautiful post!! :) :)


  6. Pooja_G Says:

    Fabulous first post...I am sure looking forward to hear your traveling experiences :D


  7. sahar awan Says:

    lucky you iran is my fav country...
    hey your presentation is awesome...

    grt post


  8. I loved your new blog layout, subject, Arabic food ... What I love! I'm descended from Arabic. I'm following you, dear !!!:)

    have a good weekend!


  9. Ruqaiya Khan Says:

    Such an interesting blog!! I am following you :)


  10. Cherry Lane Says:

    such a loveoy blog! cant wait to see what other coutries you have visited! im totally craver kebabs after that pic!!


  11. @Su: I'm lucky to have family there. It is always a pleasure to visit a country so rich with history and culture. Thank you for following :)

    @Fakhra: Give it a try. It's easier than making kheer. I'm sure you'll like it.

    @Rakhshanda:I hope you do someday. It's a wonderful place and the people are very hospitable.

    @Creative mind: Thank you so much

    @Viya:Thanks. I will try to keep it cheerful in here :) So no sad stories. You can plan and go to Kashmir someday. I have heard they have an awesome saffron harvest festival.

    PoojaG: I'm glad to have you here.I hope you like my future posts too.

    @Sahar Awan: Thank you hon. Hope to see you here again soon :)

    @Andreia Fsalim: Thank you so much. Middle Eastern food has always been my weakness.I will try and share more recipes from this region.

    @Ruqaiya Khan: Thank you loads :) It's always a pleasure to see you drop by

    @Cherry Lane: Thanks cherry. Their kebabs are mouthwatering. I still haven't mastered the art at home. But I'll keep on trying :)


  12. Very nice! That's a lot of work for those spices.


  13. Emi Coco Says:

    Lovely post!

    Shall we follow each other? I'm following you.

    WWW.FASHIONWHIT.COM


  14. Vivi K Says:

    Wow, I would love to try this! I love spicy foods just sizzling with culture!
    Glad to have found your blog!

    Much love, Vivi


  15. Mania Says:

    wow ... your new blog is so beautiful love it congrats..I love saffron, i use it almost in every dish I make, specially with chicken . I make them in powder, much more efficient ;) amazing post it's funny cos I have never made shole zard before,great job looks so delicious oh how much I miss that x


  16. Divya Says:

    The garnishing is so creative and I want this now... its so late at night.... :(
    All the best... I am gonna be here for more recipes :P


  17. You have a very lovely blog out here. Such an interesting blogpost; didn't know that saffron was this labor intensive; thanx for the extra knowledge. Maybe we could follow each other if you like.;)


  18. NatalieCe Says:

    Hey check out my giveaway and be sure to enter at nataliece.blogspot.com


  19. This is such an amazing post! Seems like you've had quite the adventure ;)
    I love safron, it's my favorite spice, but it's just too darn expensive to use liberally :/
    I can tell the kind of quality this blog will have :D
    keep up the great work!


  20. Have a good start to your new blog!
    Ofcourse I followed!
    Have a lovely new month!
    xxx
    Miss Starshiny


  21. Marika Says:

    lovely pics!!!
    visit my blog on http://laviecestchic.blogspot.com!
    xoxo Marika


  22. lovely blog :) m a foodie !! m following u :) pls follow me back


  23. @Mom Taxi Julie: It sure is. No wonder it's so expensive.

    @Emi Coco:Sure will drop by your blog. Thanks for following.

    @ViVi K: Thanks, let me know how it turns out.

    @Mania: Coming from a brilliant cook like you means a lot mania. I hope you try it.

    @Divya: Do drop by again soon. I will be coming up with more recipes in the future. You better go to bed now :)

    @Sharda: Thank you for dropping by and liking my lil blog. Drop by again soon :)

    @Nataliec: Thanks for letting me know and good luck with your giveaway.

    @Fatema: Thanks for dropping by hon. Another city famous for saffrom is Kashmir ahem! ahem!;)

    @Miss starshiny: Awww! Thank you so much :)

    @Marika: Will drop by thanks.

    @SkullsBonesAndLoveOfFashon: wew! your username is quite a mouthfull :)thank you :)


  24. Cheeky Chic Says:

    Gawsh!! This is amazing .I will totally look forward to hear more of Iran .Has always been on my wish list to visit..Amazing imagery ..Great description..


  25. Pyari Beauty Says:

    I love this post.

    I never knew that saffron was made like that, lol.

    Your dish looks yummy! x


  26. Maila Says:

    Oh my, your garnishing is absolutely beautiful! I have always been awe of saffron too.
    Good, informative article ;)


  27. very interesting and informative. I had no idea even how saffron can be obtained from flowers, grown in such barren land. Probably that's the reason its an expensive spice.
    Your garnishing skill is A1. Thanks for sharing and i will try your recipe too as it looks delicious :)


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