Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Fāloodeh is a beloved and refreshing Persian dessert made by incorporating thin threads of noodles into a sweet rose water–flavored syrup that has been cooled to a semi-frozen state. Served in individual bowls, it is often topped with a splash of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice and/or a teaspoon of sour cherry syrup. It is a fitting end to any heavy and rich meal as well as the perfect cooling treat on a summer afternoon. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

The noodles in fāloodeh are not an afterthought, but a primary ingredient, fully integrated into the sweet, icy rose water–flavored mound that surrounds them. They are what sets fāloodeh apart from so many other icy desserts such as granitas, sorbets, Italian ices, slushies, snow cones, and shaved ices.

Most often, particularly among Iranian communities, this icy treat is referred to as fāloodeh-é-Shirāzi. Many, including me, believe the best fāloodeh is made in the southern Iranian city of Shirāz, which is known as Iran’s city of flowers, literature, and poets.

History of Fāloodeh

Some of the earliest frozen sweets known to humanity were created in ancient Persia. By 400 BCE, Persians were making, collecting, and storing ice, even in the middle of summer in the desert. They built structures called yakhchāls, (literally, “ice-pits”), which consisted of a pointed dome above ground and a large storage space below. The ice stored in them was used not only during the hottest summer months, but throughout the year for a variety of purposes such as preserving perishable food and preparing icy beverages and treats. 

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The earliest of these treats were snow-like piles of ice topped with natural sweeteners of the time such as fruit syrups and honey. The oldest surviving culinary-related manuscript from ancient Persia (circa 500 CE) documents an interview between King Khosrow II of the Sasanian Dynasty and a young man named Ridak, who wanted to become a royal valet. When the monarch asks Ridak’s opinion about the best sweet treats, Ridak’s response includes “snow with fruit syrup.” It is believed that such early icy treats evolved into what we now know as fāloodeh.

Fāloodeh-type sweets were introduced to the Arab world after the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century. Some historians believe that it was then introduced to Sicily in the 8th century as part of the Arab invasion of Sicily and was a predecessor to contemporary granitas and sorbets. The Indian subcontinent was introduced to fāloodeh from Persia during the Mughal Empire in the 16th century; today it is served there as more of a popular cold beverage and is referred to as falooda.

My Path to Homemade Fāloodeh

During my childhood and teen years growing up in Iran, I never saw anyone making fāloodeh at home. It was one of those special popular treats you enjoyed at an ice cream parlor, from a street corner ice cream pushcart, or as dessert in a sit-down restaurant. 

I have been making fāloodeh in my home kitchen for almost 20 years now. It all began when our family was living in Ithaca, New York, the home of Cornell University. Several times a year, my wife and I hosted groups of Iranian students who were attending Cornell and served them traditional home-cooked Persian food. For one of those occasions, I challenged myself to surprise the guests with something very Persian that they might not have had for a long time—homemade fāloodeh was the answer. It took a bit of controlled experimentation to find the right noodles to use and to determine the best formula for the sugary rose water syrup, but in the end those initial batches were authentic enough that no one could believe that it was homemade.

Over the years, I have improved and streamlined this recipe to replicate those heavenly scoops of fāloodeh that my tastebuds can still remember from my childhood summer trips to Shirāz to visit relatives.

Fāloodeh Key Ingredients

The original method of making fāloodeh, which is still used commercially and in some homes today, starts by making fresh wheat-starch noodles for each batch. A slurry of equal parts (in volume) of wheat starch and water are then cooked long enough for a very thick, almost transparent, paste to be generated. While still hot, the resulting paste is put into a special noodle extruder with tiny holes on the bottom, and long, thin threads of still warm starch noodles immediately drop into a large ice bath below. As soon as they have cooled and gelled enough to handle, the noodles are used to make a batch of fāloodeh. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Making fresh wheat-starch noodles at home is time-consuming and hard to master. Fortunately, there is an equally good and very convenient alternative: mung bean noodles or threads (also called glass noodles, cellophane noodles, or, wun sen). When cooked in boiling water, these thread-like white noodles become completely translucent. When frozen, the cooked noodles turn snow-white and opaque.

The other important ingredient in fāloodeh is rose water, which these days is readily available in most local supermarkets. Augmenting the sugar with a bit of light corn syrup helps produce a smooth consistency that does not freeze into a block of solid ice in your home freezer.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

For serving, all you need is a lime or a lemon, and some sour cherry syrup. Sour cherry syrup is popular among Persians for drizzling over sweets and for making thirst-quenching beverages called sharbat (not to be confused with sherbet or sorbet). Bottles of sour cherry syrup can be found in the international aisle of better-stocked supermarkets and are always available in any Persian, Middle Eastern, Afghani, Mediterranean, Indian, or Turkish market. Alternatively, you can use some of the syrup from a jar of Persian-style sour cherry jam, where chunks of whole fruit float in a thick, sweet, fruity syrup.

Equipment and Techniques. for Making Fāloodeh

The recipe makes about 6 cups of fāloodeh and can be prepared in a non-commercial 1.5-quart ice cream maker (either canister-style or compressor-style). Using an ice cream maker produces the ideal texture; by continuously churning as the base freezes, ice crystals are kept to a very small size for a smoother texture. If you don’t have one, not to worry—I’ve included directions for making fāloodeh without one as well.

Unlike most pasta dishes, where the noodles are cooked just to the al dente stage, the dry mung bean threads for fāloodeh need to be boiled until fully cooked, and then some. This is because you want them to absorb as much water as possible, which is necessary for them to become delicately crunchy as they freeze in the rose water–flavored syrup.

Noodles raw, frozen, and thawedSerious Eats / Nader Mehravari

When making fāloodeh with home ice-cream makers (canister or compressor type), keep in mind that the paddle that moves and scrapes the slushy liquid is not designed to properly incorporate the noodles. Don’t be tempted to add the noodles to the ice cream maker all at once as part of the churning process, the way one might when adding mix-ins to an ice cream base. Otherwise, you will end up with a clogged mass of noodles sticking out of the top of the freezer bowl. Instead, after the ice cream maker has done its job of making a pretty stiff frozen slush, add about a quarter of the noodles into the freezer bowl and let the ice cream maker churn for another 5 minutes. Depending on your ice cream maker, you might be able to add another quarter of the noodles followed by another 5 minutes of churning before noodles start to clog up. At that point, stop the ice-cream maker, remove the paddle from the freezer bowl and gently stir the rest of the noodles in by hand.

How to Serve

If you’ve never eaten fāloodeh before, I recommend the following approach: Start by eating a couple of teaspoons of fāloodeh without adding anything so that you can experience the pure frozen-slushy texture and the rose water flavor. Assuming you have at least a couple of scoops in your bowl, pour a teaspoon or two of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice on one of the scoops and one or two teaspoons of sour cherry syrup on the other. Taste a lime juice side. Taste the sour cherry syrup side. Finally, take a spoonful from the middle of the two scoops so that you get a bit of both in one bite. This way, you can experience all the flavor possibilities. After that, eat it however you please. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Fāloodeh is slushier and melts a bit faster than most other frozen desserts and its texture changes as you eat it. Typically, by the time you get to the bottom of your dish of fāloodeh you will be left with noodles swimming in the melted slush. That is the way it is supposed to be.

In a medium saucepan, heat sugar and 2 1/2 cups water over medium-low, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes; remove from heat and stir in corn syrup. Alternatively, in a medium bowl, stir sugar with 2 1/2 cups cold water and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, 10-15 minutes. (You can use either method to make the syrup; heat will dissolve the sugar faster but take longer to cool down, while the no-heat method will take longer to dissolve the sugar but will chill faster in Step 2.)

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Pour sugar syrup into a shallow container and cover. If using an ice cream maker, refrigerate until the syrup’s temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), at least 4 hours; if not using an ice-cream maker, transfer to the freezer, then follow instructions in the notes section below.

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Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine noodles with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes. 

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Drain the cooked noodles in a fine mesh strainer, then transfer them to a cutting board. Form noodles into a rough 3- by 6-inch rectangular pile. Using a large knife or kitchen scissors, cut the pile of noodles into 8 sections, making 1 lengthwise cut and 3 crosswise cuts (the cut noodle strands should be no longer than 2 to 3 inches). Measure the noodles; if you have more than 1 1/4 cups (250g), discard the extra or reserve for another use. Refrigerate the cut cooked noodles in a bowl of cold tap water, covered, until needed. Put an empty, shallow 2-quart container (such as a large tupperware or small baking dish) in the freezer and let chill.

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When the sugar syrup is below 50°F (10°C), stir in the rose water. Using an ice cream maker and following manufacturer’s instructions, churn syrup until the mixture has turned into a thick, white, slushy mass (for making without an ice cream maker, see notes below). Toward the end of the churning process, drain the chilled noodles in a fine-mesh strainer, shaking the strainer to remove as much water as possible, then add about a quarter of the noodles to the freezer bowl and let the ice cream maker churn for another 5 minutes; if your ice cream maker is still churning smoothly, add another quarter of the noodles followed by another 5 minutes of churning before noodles start to clog up. At that point, stop the ice-cream maker. Gently remove the paddle, scraping any attached slush and noodles back into the ice cream maker.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Add the rest of the noodles into the ice cream maker and, using a silicone spatula, gently mix in the noodles until evenly incorporated, being careful not to break the noodles into tiny pieces.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Working quickly, scrape the mixture into the pre-chilled container, cover, and return to the freezer. Freeze for 30 minutes, then remove from freezer and, using a silicone spatula, stir the contents with a folding motion. Return to freezer, then continue stirring every 30 minutes until the mixture has the consistency of easily scoopable sorbet; how long this takes will depend on how thoroughly your ice cream maker was able to freeze the syrup; in our tests using a Cuisinart canister-model (non-compressor) ice-cream maker, it took about 2 additional hours of freezer time after churning to freeze firmly enough for serving.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Scoop into serving bowls and serve with lime juice or sour cherry syrup (or both), allowing diners to garnish their bowls as desired.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Special Equipment

Ice cream maker (optional but recommended), Fine-mesh strainer, shallow 2-quart plastic container with lid

Notes

To make fāloodeh without an ice cream maker: Make the sugar syrup as directed in the recipe. In Step 2, place the sugar syrup along with the rose water in a shallow 2-quart container. Cover, transfer to freezer, and let it chill until ice crystals have begun to form, about 4 hours. While sugar syrup is chilling, cook the noodles as directed in steps 3 and 4. Once ice crystals have started to form, add the noodles to the chilled sugar syrup and stir to combine. Cover container and return to freezer for 30 minutes. Remove container from freezer and stir sugar syrup mixture, making sure to scrape the bottom and the corners of the container. Repeat freezing and stirring every 30 minutes until there isn’t any clear liquid left and you have a thick, white, slushy mass. A spoon scraped across the top should leave an impression that does not disappear right away. Depending on the temperature and the contents of your freezer, you may have to do this over several hours. Serve as directed.

Unlike with ice cream, it is okay to refreeze fāloodeh.

For storing fāloodeh, I prefer high-quality airtight plastic containers over glass or ceramic ones. In a glass or ceramic container, fāloodeh takes longer both to freeze and to thaw to the proper consistency. Choose a container with a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, i.e., wider and flatter than a typical supermarket ice cream tub.

Most mung bean noodles come in 1- to 2-ounce (30g to 50g) bundles, with eight to 10 bundles in each package. I’ve found that different brands work equally well so my advice is to use the thinnest ones you can find. There’s a good chance that your local supermarket carries them in the international aisle; if not, you can find them at all Asian grocery stores.There is no need to unwrap the single strand of the noodle that sometimes is wrapped around the bundle before cooking the noodles; it will unwrap itself on its own as the water heats up.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Unlike ice creams and fruit-based sorbet and granitas, fāloodeh can be stored for an extended period of time—months—if stored in an airtight container in the freezer. This means you can make several batches and have them ready to surprise unplanned guests or impress a group at a last-minute potluck.

Fāloodeh is best served when it is easily scoopable, almost slushy. Since practically all home freezers are set around 0°F (-18°C), fāloodeh that has been made ahead and stored will be hard to scoop. To thaw it to the right consistency, place the container of fāloodeh on the kitchen counter until softened slightly.

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