Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice

There are some dishes so relative to your childhood that when you taste them, you feel transported back in time. Zarda, also known as meethe chawal is one of those dishes for me. I fondly remember my Dadima (grandmother) quickly making a small batch after early dinners, when she craved the delicately sweet, saffron laced dessert. Its vibrant yellow color and sweet taste make it a perfect dish to serve for a Lohri gathering.

Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice

[Similar reads: Sarson ka Saag ]

Lohri, a festival celebrated by people from Punjab and North India is traditionally associated with the end of winter and the harvesting of winter crops. New marriages and births are also celebrated with grandeur during Lohri, marking them as new beginnings with wishes for a bright and fruitful future. People have gatherings and large parties asking for blessings and celebrating this new stage in life. Celebrations include dressing up, singing folk songs while dancing around a bonfire and throwing sesame seeds, gur (jaggery), puffed rice and other items into the fire. Children go around asking for Lohri (blessings, money, toys, and sesame & peanut candies from elders. The community is in a mood of celebration while kitchens are filled with authentic recipes.

My Dadima was born three days before Lohri. Some of her favorite dishes included sarson ka saag, makki di roti, atte da halwa, besan ke ladoo and this zarda, meethe chawal. I can’t help but remember her love for these foods when I cook these particular dishes.

Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice

[Similar reads: Besan ke Ladoo ]

Zarda or meethe chawal is a traditional sweet rice dish made with cooking rice, sugar and saffron and is commonly made during religious and cultural celebrations in North India. The name Zarda comes from the Persian/Urdu word “zard” which means “yellow”. Traditionally saffron is added for the yellow color but some add additional color for a deeper hue. The sweet rice dish is often served at celebrations, dinner parties and during festivals.

Meethe Chawal
Zarda can be garnished with cashews, pistachios, almonds or raisins. I love that this dish takes very little prep work and can be made ahead of time.

Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
How to Make Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice: an aromatic traditional Indian dessert rice made with saffron, nuts and ghee.
Serves: 4-6
  • How to Make Zarda | Sweet Saffron Rice: an aromatic traditional Indian dessert rice made with saffron, nuts and ghee.
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 9-10 saffron strands
  • 3 tablespoon ghee
  • 3 tablespoon milk; hot
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoon slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoon chopped pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  • 2 cups hot water
  1. In a small bowl add the hot milk and saffron strands, Set aside and allow it to bloom.
  2. Wash and soak the rice for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve.
  3. In a deep pan on medium heat, melt the ghee. Once melted add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods and rice and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the almonds, raisins, and pistachios and roast for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the saffron milk mixture, sugar and hot water, cover and let cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Uncover, add cardamom powder, cover again for 7-8 minutes or until rice is fully cooked.
  7. Fluff the rice lightly with a fork.
  8. Garnish with more crushed pistachios and serve warm.



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