Sweet rice with saffron, nuts and orange zest

Sweet rice with saffron, nuts and orange zest

Shirin polow

Mark Roper

There’s no getting around the fact that this festive and exquisite golden polow is a bit of a palaver to make – but if you have a sweet tooth, you will find the combination of candied citrus zest, lightly toasted nuts and spices absolutely irresistible. The idea of candying carrot may seem a little strange at first, but of, course, it has an underlying sweetness all of its own and the bright colour adds to the amber glow of the dish.

Serve with grilled or roasted chicken or quail – or do as they do in Shiraz, and serve it with the earthy Khoresht-e Gheimeh, made from braised lamb and split peas.


Quantity Ingredient
2 oranges, zested, cut into julienne strips
125g unsalted butter
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips, (about 200 g)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground cumin
150g caster sugar
50g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
50g slivered pistachios
300g basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
70ml vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, (optional)
2 tablespoons Saffron liquid


  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the orange zest in the boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and repeat twice more to remove any bitterness.
  2. Melt 75 g of the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add the carrot and spices and sweat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the zest, sugar, half the saffron liquid and 250 ml water to the pan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then strain off the syrup and reserve it and the zest and carrot separately.
  3. Set aside a tablespoon each of the almonds and pistachios to use as a garnish and combine the rest with the orange and carrot mixture. Set aside.
  4. Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch.
  5. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water. Bring 2 litres water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  6. Return the rice saucepan to a medium heat and add the oil and 2 tablespoons water. As soon as the oil begins to sizzle, spoon in enough rice to cover the base of the pan in a thin layer. Scatter a layer of the carrot mixture over the rice. Continue to layer the rice and the carrot mixture, building them up into a pyramid. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke 5 or 6 holes down through the rice to the base of the pan to help it steam.
  7. Melt the remaining butter and mix it with 2 tablespoons warm water, then drizzle this over the rice. Wrap the saucepan lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pan as tightly as you can.
  8. Leave the pan on a medium–high heat for a 2–3 minutes until the rice is visibly steaming – you will see puffs of steam escaping from the edges of the pan. Turn the heat down to low and leave the pan alone for 40 minutes. Resist the temptation to peek, as this releases the steam and affects the cooking time. The rice can actually sit quite happily over the lowest possible heat for another 20 minutes or so.
  9. After 20 minutes, quickly drizzle the reserved syrup over the rice, then replace the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes. You will need to keep an eye on the pan to make sure that the sugar syrup doesn’t burn on the base.
  10. To serve, invert the pan onto a warm serving platter so that the rice plops out as one glorious, golden-capped mound. Garnish with the reserved nuts and pomegranate seeds, if using.
Middle Eastern
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