This recipe is really close to my heart. Winter afternoons at my Nani’s house (maternal grandmother) is what I am reminded of at this time of year, even though it all feels like a lifetime ago. The festive season in Karachi was defined not by Christmas shopping and a mad dash to wrap presents, but rather a string of wedding invites and dinner parties. In Southern Pakistan the weather turns pleasant in December and hence the abundance of parties. One dish that my grandmother always made in winter was ‘zarda’, sweet rice traditionally fragranced with saffron, topped with nuts, coconut and ‘ashrafi’ (red and green candied papaya), a dessert found also at many wedding banquets. ‘Methay chawal’, (sweet rice) as they are also known in Pakistani cuisine, are almost always flavoured with saffron, and many people add yellow food colour to enhance the hue, enriched with nuts, raisins and coconut. My nani only ever used saffron – I have been inspired here by my daughter’s love for rainbows – I have used 3-4 food colours and also saffron. You can either stick to the original or try with my bright experiment. For the lack of candied papaya I have substituted with other local candied fruit, easily found at this time of year.

This makes an alternative Christmas pudding, and it lovely by the fire with a cup of spiced hot chocolate. Every bite takes me back to my many precious moments with my beloved grandmother, and what seemed then, like endless pleasant winters. Though is feels so far removed from the cold frosty ones in Scotland now, I do seek respite in this bowl of this warm sweet festive rice at this time of year.

Rainbow Zarda – sweet nut and candied fruit rice:

Preparation and cooking time: About 30 minutes soaking rice prior to cooking, prep and cooking about 25 minutes

Serves about 3-6 people, depending on portions

* 1 1/2 cups of basmati rice

* 8-10 cloves

* 5-7 green cardamom pods

* 2 tbsp ghee

* 1 1/4 cup water

* 1 1/2 cups of caster sugar

* 1 tbsp pistachios

* 1 tbsp pine nuts

* 1/2 tbsp cashews

* 1 tbsp glace cherries, chopped

* 1/2 tbsp chopped candied peel

* 1 tbsp dessicated coconut

* Food colours: yellow, red, blue, green

* 1 large pinch saffron, soaked in 1 tsp hot water for upto 30 minutes before adding

1. In a saucepan add water and 3-4 cloves and 3 cardamom pods and boil. Add rice and half boil and strain rice. Keep aside.

2. Now heat ghee in a dry saucepan, add remaining cloves and cardamom, add the measured 1 1/4 cup water and sugar and make into a thin syrup. (the sugar may crystalize when you add water and sugar in ghee, but not to worry, it all dissolves!)

3. Add the half boiled rice, nuts and stir. The water should just about cover the rice. Cover the saucepan and turn heat down completely low. Check every 5 minutes, stir gently and cover again. Keep doing this until the rice is nearly cooked through.

4. Once nearly done, pour in the saffron, dribble the food colour sparingly here and there (try not to mix the colours, as they all land up turning brown). Keep heat on low, cook covered for another few minutes. The rice should be completely cooked through but not over soft or mushy.

5. Serve in a bowl topped with candied peel, glaze cherries and coconut.