Pakistani Zarda Recipe
1 ½ cups of fragrant (basmati) rice (presoaked for at least 30 minutes before)
6 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
Less than ½ cup of water
¼ cup clarified butter
¼ tsp yellow food coloring (optional)
3-4 green cardamoms
2 tbsp sliced almonds
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp sliced pistachios (see tips)
2 tbsp coarsely chopped cashew nuts
1 tbsp cashew nuts sliced
1 tbsp almonds sliced
1 tbsp pistachios sliced
2-3 tbsp Khoya (dried milk)
100 gms mini gulab jamun (see tips)
100 gms mini chamcham (optional)
2-3 tbsp chopped red and green candied fruits/murabba/ashrafis (optional)
Bring the 6 cups of water to a rolling boil along with the salt, green cardamom, food coloring (if using), and cloves.
Add in the rice and cook it just until rice is fully cooked through and not mushy (see tips).
Drain the rice and set aside.
In a medium-sized pan, add less than ½ cup of water along with the clarified butter stir and add in the sugar, cook until sugar is well dissolved.
(Optional) Meanwhile, dry roast the almonds, cashew nuts, and pistachios in a pan placed over a low flame. Set aside.
Add in the boiled rice to the sugar syrup along with the almonds, cashew nuts and pistachios, mix well and cook over medium heat just until the sugar syrups start to dry.
Reduce the heat of the pan to low and place a flat skillet under the pan that contains the rice. Cover the pot with a lid or a damp cloth and place on a simmer until done, this should take around 15-20 minutes. (see tips)
Dish the rice out and top with additional sliced nuts of your choice (cashew nuts, pistachios, and almonds), candied fruits (ashrafis), khoya, gulab jamun, chamcham and silver paper. Serve immediately or cold, enjoy!
You can use any kind of assorted nuts as per your desire. Customize and add your personal touch to the recipe by replacing the usual nuts with some other unique, flavorful ones, hazelnuts, and pine nuts, for instance. Also, ensure you or your family members are not allergic to any of the nuts chosen for this recipe.
Traditional Pakistani zarda is all about the aroma and flavor; however, you need to pay the most attention to when it comes to making authentic Zarda. Finding mini Gulab jamuns, chamchams, khoya (dry-milk), and ashrafis fruit may be a bit challenging to find except for in South Asian markets. Therefore, you can simply skip such ingredients or recreate all of these components from scratch at home, though it may be time-consuming. It sure will be worth it!
Ensure while boiling the rice, you cook it only 95% through. This means your rice needs to cook fully but not mushy at the same time. Undercooking of the rice at this stage would then lead to hard rice grains after the sugar syrup is added. To check whether the rice is ready, simply press down on a grain of rice between your fingers; you should be able to mash it easily and they must not be hard at all.
The timings for steaming the rice when it is on a simmer may vary. You need to ensure the rice fully absorbs the sugar syrup. If you do not give adequate time for steaming the rice, the grains will be hard. Ideally, it should take between 10-15 minutes or 20 at max.
After cooking the rice in the initial stage, draining it in a wide colander prevents it from further cooking. If you leave the rice in the same pot or a small colander, they will continue to cook due to its heat. This may lead to overcooking the rice, and the rice may be soggy and mushy.
If you cannot find khoya, be sure to add tbsp or so of clarified butter as khoya brings moisture to the dish, omitting it completely without a substitute may give you a dry result. Therefore, it is best to make use of some clarified butter instead.
Zarda is also often made with three different colors, if you wish to achieve the same result, simply divide the rice and water quantity into three different pots and add desired food colorings, drain the rice the same way and layer it over the sugar syrup before placing it on a gentle simmer.