Meetha Pulao or Zarda

Meetha pulao or zarda is as aromatic rice dish cooked in a heady concoction of milk, green cardamom and earthy nutmeg, flavored heavily with saffron and desi ghee. Load up on your favorite dry fruits and as much sugar you want to make this dish a tradition for every festive occasion.

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“Food is memories”. This I know to be true. I can personally vouch for it as I often find myself  meandering down those nostalgic roads while cooking.

It may be the smell of early morning coffee on somedays..somedays it comes to me while I am watering my plants..a memory creeps up while i am dressing baby D for school..and sometimes its the demand of a loving husband asking me to cook something from his childhood. Whatever the occasion, whether i am sad or happy, anxious or peaceful, I find myself getting wrapped up in memories. Memories of food. Home. Mother.Family. Does it happen to you too?? Are you like me.. ? Getting all sentimental over a bowl of something delicious? 

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And as I made this dish, I was so happy to see a delighted babyD running in and out of the kitchen..pretty little anklets ringing in its wake. She was my helper in this dis, helping me heat the milk…added the saffron and even drizzled ghee in the rice. The aroma of saffron was so intoxicating for the little baby that she kept running in to the kitchen. It was so much fun making this traditional dish, a dish that has been passed on to me by my mom ..and now hopefully I am helping babyD  create her own memories around food. 

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Pulao is a simple rice preparation, one that usually involves ghee. It can be studded with vegetables, can be made with chicken or mutton, or be sweet like this one. Biriyani on the other hand, although a similar rice preparation is quite more complicated than its innocuous harmless cousin, the pulao or pilaf. Biriyani needs marinating (either the veggies or the meat), needs layering, kewar, rose water, a whole lot of spices and has to be cooked on dum. Pulao on the other hand is a simpler, quicker version that is no less delicious than biriyani. Let just say both have their own charm , and both are special occasion dishes.

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Although the meetha pulao originates from Hyderabad, it is often used interchangeably with its Persian cousin, Zarda. Both are almost the same. The preparation , the ingredients everything is the same. There isn’t much difference except that the Persian counterpart uses rose water and our simpler Indian version doesn’t. Use your imagination and whatever ingredients you have in your kitchen to go Persian or Indian, the result is almost identical and equally delicious. 

This particular rice dish is steeped in almost thirty yrs of memory for me. For as long as I have lived, my mom has made this on every single Indian festival (if you are an Indian, you can just about imagine how many that would be, for my other friends…lets just say we have a festival every ten days :P). Be it Ganesh Pooja or Rakshabandhan, Durga Puja or Diwali, Independence Day or Lakshmi Pooja, this rice must be made. As for Janmashtami, well, this dish is a definite must! After all its completely vegetarian, has the goodness of ghee in it, will render your home smelling like heaven, is sweet and studded with dry fruits, and its yellow in color, the favorite color of Lord Krishna, that mischievous God whose birthday we are celebrating tomorrow. What more could one want?? 

Not much in my humble opinion. 


Fragrant long grained basmati rice cooked in a heady concoction of milk,green cardamom and earthy nutmeg, flavored heavily with saffron and the desi ghee. Load up on your favorite dry fruits and as much sugar you want to make this dish a tradition for every festive occasion.


S 🙂 

Meetha Pulao or zarda
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Fragrant long grained basmati rice cooked in a heady concoction of milk,green cardamom and earthy nutmeg, flavored heavily with saffron and the desi ghee. Load up on your favorite dry fruits and as much sugar you want to make this dish a tradition for every festive occasion.
Recipe type: main course
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4
  • Basmati rice - 1 cup
  • Water - 3 cups
  • Milk- 1 cup
  • Sugar - ½ cup or more, depending on your taste.
  • Saffron/ kesar - a big pinch, almost 1 tsp
  • Nutmeg - ¼ teaspoon,grated or powder
  • Ghee or clarified butter- 4 tbsp
  • Green cardamom - 4-5 pieces. You can use about ½ tsp powder too.
  • Assorted dry fruits - cashews, blanched and peeled almonds, raisins,pistachios.
  1. Start by washing the rice clean under running water, ensure you dont break the fine long grains.
  2. Soak it in the water for about 30 mins.
  3. Drain and dry completely before beginning.
  4. Next, in a very heavy bottom pan, heat 1 tbsp of ghee and lightly saute all the dryfruits(except raisins). Remove when golden brown. Set aside.
  5. In a small sauce pan, add milk, 1 tbsp ghee and 2 cardamom. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Once warm, add the saffron, sugar and nutmeg.
  6. For the pressure cooker method:
  7. In a pressure cooker add 2 tbsp ghee, the green cardamom and let it pop. Then add the dried rice and saute till lightly roasted (around 3-4 minutes). DO NOT do this step if you are going to use the absorption method listed below.
  8. Add about double the amount of liquid; 1 cup water + 1 cup of the milk sugar mixture.
  9. Let it come to a boil. Add the lid.
  10. Pressure cook for just 1 whistle. Let sit for 20 minutes before opening the lid and fluffing it gently. Garnish with the dryfruits and serve.
  11. For the absorption method (takes more time ):
  12. In a pan , par boil the soaked rice in about 3 cups of water. Make sure the rice is almost 80% done.
  13. Drain the rice, add 2 tbsp of ghee to the warm and mix through gently.
  14. Next in the same pan, add the milk and the ghee rice, let it simmer and cook till done. Takes 15 minutes more or less..
  15. Let it rest for 15-20 minutes before fluffing.
  16. Garnish with dry fruits and serve.
For a healthier alternative, you can omit frying the dry fruits in ghee. Use pan toasted ones instead.
Always soak the rice. It ensures the grains to elongate to their optimum size.
Use very good quality saffron, the pricier, the better in this case.
Never add saffron to hot milk. ALways wait for it to be just warm.
I have listed two methods to make this dish, you can choose one acc to your preference and time on hand.
You don't have to dry the rice for the absorption method, but its a must for the pressure cooker method. Just spread it out on some old newspaper and leave it under the ceiling fan for quick drying. Takes 15 mins.
Use sugar acc to taste. I dont like it to be cloyingly sweet.
You can use rose water in it too. Just add it before the final boil/cook.

5 thoughts

  1. super swayam…. have always loved this meethe chawal but did not have a perfect recipe .this one sounds like a real deal.

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