cup arborio rice, unrinsed
cups whole milk
cup heavy cream
cup granulated sugar
tablespoon pure vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean (see Notes)
black cardamom pod (see Notes)
tablespoon ground turmeric
saffron threads, preferably Persian, ground then stirred into 1 tablespoon water
teaspoon kosher salt
tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
large egg yolks
teaspoon ground cinnamon
cup freeze-dried strawberries, finely ground
cup coarsely chopped roasted salted pistachios
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Bring 4 cups of water to a hard boil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over high heat. Add the rice and let it boil, stirring regularly, until the grains begin to soften around the edges but are still crunchy in the center, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the rice, but do not rinse it. Rinse the pot with cold water to cool it down, then return it to the stove.
- To the rinsed pot, add the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon stick, cardamom, turmeric, saffron water and kosher salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You may be tempted to turn the heat up to make it boil faster — resist this urge. The goal is to let the spices slowly infuse the milk and cream, like a tea, for deep flavor.
- Slowly stir in the rice, making sure the grains are all well coated. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer, stirring a few times to make sure the grains don’t stick to the bottom, until the mixture has the consistency of a loose pudding, 35 to 45 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, with the rice maintaining a slight chew.
- Add the cubes of butter a few at a time, stirring to incorporate fully between each addition. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm, stirring regularly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. The consistency should be velvety.
- Divide the sholeh zard among bowls, and divide the ground cinnamon, strawberry powder and pistachios — in that order — over the top of each one. The strawberry powder should be the thickest layer, covering the entire surface. Crown the bowls with a light sprinkling of flaky salt and serve.