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Saffron-pistachio ice cream with rooh afza

Updated: Mar 22

While everyone loves gelatos, I have fallen head-over-heels with Persian ice cream. I find them delightful, creamier, and non-eggy and have an amazing texture. The texture comes from 2 ingredients, sahlab and mastic. Sahlab is the powdered root of a wild orchid that grows in Syria and Turkey. The powder is used, in small quantities, as a natural emulsifier, adding a rich creaminess to the ice cream. It is also used to make custards and other mousse-like desserts. Mastic, on the other hand, is the gum of the pistachio tree. It adds a concentrated pistachio flavour but also makes the ice cream stringy, a texture that also changes the mouthfeel of the ice cream to divine.

Rooh afza, meaning "soul refresher," is a concentrated rose syrup created in 1906 in Ghaziabad, Pakistan, as a Unani medicinal elixir to help people boost their health and overcome dehydration. The recipe is secret, but some ingredients are extracts from rose, kewda, carrot, spinach, and wine-soaked raisins. Today, it is most commonly seen as red syrup drizzled liberally over faloodas. Rooh afza is the drink of Ramadan for its cooling and refreshing qualities.

This ice cream is one of my favourites. It is super creamy, and the scent of saffron and pistachio takes over strongly. The ice cream is drizzled with a few drops of rooh afza syrup, which compliments the flavours well. This is an ice cream that everyone will want a second helping of.

This was one of my first cookbooks and one that took me to the world of Persian cooking. Najmieh is considered one of the masters of Persian cooking and Iranian ceremony. She has published several cookbooks, and this one, her first, is hailed as the definitive guide to Persian food. She has won numerous awards for her books and work. This book is phenomenal, and every recipe I have cooked from it is fantastic. This book belongs on everyone's bookshelf, but as a guide to the culture and for the recipes.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


2 cups light cream

1 1/2 + 1/2 cup milk

1 1/4 cups white sugar

1 teaspoon sahlab powder

1 teaspoon mastic

1 generous pinch of saffron threads

1 cup shelled pistachios, lightly roasted and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon rose water

Mix the sahlab powder with 1/2 cup milk and stir till fully dissolved. Set aside.

Pound the mastic till you have a fine powder.

Mix the cream, 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar and mastic in a pot. Heat on low heat and slowly stream in the sahlab mix. Stir continuously and bring to a low simmer till the milk thickens to a texture of light cream, about 5 minutes. Add the saffron and pistachios and stir in.

When cool, stir often so you do not get a thick layer of cream on top. Add the rose water and stir in. Taste for sugar, saffron, and pistachios. The mix should be creamy and sweet, with a strong scent of saffron and pistachios and a light scent of rose water.

When cooled completely, make it into ice cream in an ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions.

Serve with a few drops or a teaspoon of rooh afza syrup drizzled on top.

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