Mama’s Punjabi Recipes- Mithe Chawal (Sweet Rice)

Recipe 1in

You can’t have an Indian meal anywhere in the world without being offered some chawal (rice) to go along with it, just like with many Asian cuisines, from Chinese to Japanese to Malay and Sri Lankan. The main difference is the quality of the rice and the way it is cooked. While the Chinese prefer the sticky, short rice, Indians prefer the basmati, long grained, highly aromatic rice.

In the Punjab and other parts of northwest India, the carbohydrate of choice is bread, in all its many styles and varieties; but especially the emphasis is on roti, just as the tortilla is essential to Mexican and Tex-Mex food. For Punjabis, rice is reserved for special occasions like large religious functions, get-togethers and weddings. And there are rice dishes reserved for such occasions, like biryani, pulao and kheer.

Mithe chawal is another that is not made that frequently, but if you are offered this saffron colored dish, you can be sure it’s for a special function. This dish is also called zarda, the name coming from the Persian and Urdu word “zard” meaning “yellow” for the color of the dish. Many Muslims eat it as a regular desert, especially during Eid.

Zarda is usually served flavored with cardamoms, pistachios, almonds, raisins and saffron. A slightly different version called Muntanjan is made in Pakistan, in which multiple colorings are added to the rice grains, and murraba (candied fruits) and nuts are added.


2 cup chawal (rice)
5 cup pani (water)
1 cup chinni (sugar)
1/2 cup ghee (clarified butter) – you can use olive oil
1 tsp pila rang (yellow food coloring)
6 ilachi (cardamom) – split open
Dry fruits to your taste: kishmish (raisins); badam (almonds – peeled and silvered); piste (pistachios – halved or pieces)

1.   Wash the rice in cold water and drain through a sieve.

2.   Pour the rice in a pot of 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and drop in the yellow coloring.

3.   Check to see if the rice is tender, then remove from the heat and drain out the water through a strainer.

4.   Leave the rice in the pot; add the sugar, cardamom and dried fruit and mix with a large spoon.

5.   Warm the ghee or olive oil in a small pan and then pour it over the rice. Cover and let the rice cook over low heat, stirring once with the large spoon.

6.  Turn off the heat and leave the rice covered for 10 minutes before serving.



Peeling and cutting vegetables is a large part of preparing food for eating, and often is the hardest and time consuming part. Sometimes it is also the part that leaves stains on clothes and hands, like when cutting up beetroots or pomegranates; or it can leave a stinging sensation, like when cutting chillies or even ginger root or a hard-to-get-rid-of smell like when cutting lots of onions or garlic.

In the old days, there wasn’t much you could do about this, except to bear it and then try to wash your hands thoroughly and use some oil or Vaseline to soothe them. But now, it is much easier on the hands to use disposable latex gloves when cutting these difficult vegetables. Your hands will not sting, smell or get stained and will love you for using the gloves!

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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.