Saffron Rice Pudding

The house I grew up in boasted four old apple trees that shed a yard's worth of gnarled apples every year that I never dared to bite whole for fear of bruises and other yucky bits. But my grandmother and my mother still gathered them and every fall, carefully editing them of any flaws before cooking them into container after container of apple sauce and my very favorite chunky apple cake. The transformation of those apples, and the other ways my mother—who was born in the last years of the Great Depression—showed respect for extra bits of food, and made a big impression on me.In my life of relative bounty, I'm inspired by those memories to not waste food, and to find joy in the transformation of what I have around the house. Working with leftovers is, for me, really about kitchen creativity: I always feel like I do my best cooking when I have something concrete to use a springboard for the next meal. Almost always, there is something that carries over from one day to the next, shifted in flavor or texture a bit to keep things lively. That's why my new cookbook, Secrets of Great Second Meals: Flexible Modern Recipes that Value Time and Limit Waste, is filled with recipes to show off the potential of leftovers. Sometimes the transformation is dramatic. Take a simple but gorgeous dessert based on the extra box of rice you might have around from last night's takeout. By simmering the rice gently in milk with a few threads of saffron, you can create a luxurious dessert, a golden pudding topped with ruby pomegranate seeds. I use a small amount of sweet sticky rice easily found at Asian stores or online, to help thicken the pudding without fussing around with eggs. If you don't have sticky rice in your house, you can still make the dessert, but it will be looser in texture. Try a cinnamon stick and the zest of an orange in place of the saffron, or substitute 1 teaspoon of matcha powder for the saffron. Whatever flavors you choose, you're guaranteed a bowl of sweet cozy comfort to ward off winter's chill.Sara Dickerman cooked in restaurants for many years as she was developing as a food writer. She is the author of Bon Appetit: The Food Lover's Cleanse and Dried & True: The Magic of your Dehydrator in 80 Delicious Recipes and Techniques. She has contributed food and travel writing to Bon Appétit, Saveur, the New York Times, Food & Wine, Seattle magazine, Sunset, and Slate, for which she won a James Beard Award. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

Saffron Rice Pudding
Photo: Jen Causey
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
30 mins


  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk, plus more for serving

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice, preferably basmati

  • 3 tablespoons uncooked sweet rice (mochigome)

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

  • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios


  1. Toast saffron in a small, dry skillet over medium-high until it is dry and a shade darker, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat. Transfer toasted saffron to a small plate, and crush it into a powder with the back of a spoon.

  2. Whisk together crushed saffron, milk, cooked rice, uncooked rice, and cardamom in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium, whisking to break up any lumps of rice. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and smooth, about 25 minutes. Stir in cream and sugar. Remove from heat.

  3. Serve warm like a sweet risotto, or chill, stirring in a bit more milk before serving to soften the texture, if desired (the pudding will stiffen a bit when chilled). Top servings with pomegranate arils and pistachios.

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