Zer comes from the Persian word "zerd" which means gold or yellow. The dish gets its colour from the large amounts of saffron, though in Turkey some turmeric may be added in cheaper versions of this dessert. This dessert originates in Iraq but has made its way down to Turkey with migration. This is a festive dessert made at weddings, births and the first Sunday of the month of Sha'aban celebrating the birth of the prophet Zakariyya.
The main difference between this dessert and rice pudding is the absence of milk. This makes the dessert lighter and more delicate rather than the richer rice puddings also present in the region. The dish is loaded with floral saffron and the pop of pomegranate seeds makes it elegant. The dessert is not too sweet, it needs to have a good balance of sugar to balance the lime and saffron that are the predominant flavours. This is the perfect dessert for a sunny hot summer day, light, refreshing and delicate.
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1/2 cup short-grain rice
2 cups water
6 cups water
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup rose water
A generous pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
Zest of 1 lime
3 tablespoons currants or raisins
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish
Soak the rice in 2 cups water for 1 hour. Wash well and drain.
Mix the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of water to make a smooth slurry. Mix well to get rid of any lumps.
Add the rice to a saucepan with the water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the top. Cook for an additional 15 minutes till the rice is almost done.
Add the cornflour in a thin stream with continual stirring so as not to create any lumps. Continually stir the pudding from this point onwards. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
Add the rose water, saffron, pine nuts, sugar, lime juice, lime zest, and raisins. Mix in well and cook to a consistency of your choice. Taste for sugar, you want a sweet dessert but not one that is overloaded.
Pour into a container and allow to cool. Wrap with cling wrap and chill in the fridge overnight. Serve chilled and garnished with pomegranate seeds.