saffron rice pudding
Roses in May herald summer like no other flower, so adding a couple of petals on top of a saffron rice pudding with rosewater syrup seem fitting. Rice pudding has always seemed quintessentially British, but gently spiced it belongs to the culinary history of many cultures. This is a take on a Persian favourite, a happy mixture of both cultures. Saffron came to England thanks to the Phoenicians via the Cornish tin trade. These days, in the absence of the maritime prowess of those entrepreneurial Lebanese ancestors, we are bringing Zejd’s saffron to these shores on a much less glamorous container boat.
Famous for being the world’s most expensive spice, (see shorkk stories saffron for reasons why), this recipe only requires a pinch. It’s a spice after all. Although not used extensively in Lebanon, it is an essential ingredient in Persian cuisine. The very best saffron is the deep orange end of the thread, and just the right amount unlocks its wonderful aroma and colour.
We’ve adapted a recipe by James Meecham which featured in Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem. Instead of flavouring it with vanilla, we chose Zejd’s saffron instead. Kitchen tweezers make it easy to remove a few strands from Zejd’s elegant jar. While warming them for 20 seconds in a small pan is optional, it makes them easier to crush. Leave the saffron as long as you can (overnight if you’re good at planning ahead) to release its aroma in the warm milk. Use the best rose water you can find to make the syrup. You don’t need much, a teaspoon or so works beautifully with the saffron rice pudding.
a generous pinch of Zejd saffron, warmed & crushed in a pestle & mortar
400ml full fat milk
120ml double cream
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed in a pestle & mortar
120g arborio rice
30g unsalted butter, diced
1 tbsp light honey
a few edible rose petals, dried Iranian ones or homemade crystallised
a small scattering of chopped unsalted pistachios for decoration (optional)
for the syrup
1 tbsp mild flavoured honey
1/2 tsp rose water (depending on the quality)
1. Warm the saffron gently over a low flame for 20 seconds. Using a pestle and mortar, crush the dried strands.
2. Put the milk, cream, cardamom pods and the saffron in a small heavy bottomed pan. Just before it begins to boil, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 2 hours, overnight in the fridge if you can.
3. Prepare the syrup by adding a teaspoon of water to the honey and rose water, stirring until the mixture dissolves. Set aside.
4. Rinse the rice in a sieve and add to the pan of infused milk, which should be a gentle orange colour by now. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently, stirring regularly for 20 minutes. Stop before the rice is too soft. If necessary add a tablespoon of water, towards the end so that it’s not too thick.
5. Remove from the heat, take out the cardamom pods, and stir in the butter and honey. Add a little water so that it is a a runny consistency.
6. Pour into small glasses or ramekins. If you don’t want to crystallised rose petals (very easy to do at home) scatter a few torn rose petals (unsprayed) from the garden or some Iranian dried rose petals. Drizzle a little of the rosewater syrup. Serve warm.
Cold leftovers are a treat the next day.