Four ways to savor kesar pista desserts ahead of Holi, the Hindu festival of spring


What happens when one of the most expensive spices in the world combines with the creaminess of pistachios? Kesar pista, that’s what. The combination of saffron and pistachio goes back centuries on the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora. Every year, kesar pista is consumed in the form of thandai, a chilled sweet milk drink typically consumed around Holi, the Hindu festival of colors (and spring) which falls this year on Friday, March 18. 

Though South Asians often incorporate the duo of subtly floral saffron and green-tinged nuts into several desserts—hence its name in both Hindi and Urdu—neither ingredient is native to the region. The luxurious red threads are thought to be native to what is now considered the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Pistachios also originate in the Middle East, including present-day Iran and Afghanistan.

Across wider Los Angeles, you can find the unique blend of subtly floral saffron and nutty, almost savory pistachio in all kinds of desserts. Here are four ways to savor kesar pista this Holi season and usher in the start of spring—including seasonal sweets available just for this week and desserts available year-round. 

Saffron and pistachio croissant

From Thursday, March 17 through the weekend, artisan bread favorite Clark Street Bakery will offer saffron and pistachio croissants to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Holi. Available at their Brentwood and Echo Park locations, these bright green pastries are poised to be an extremely limited-run treat, so snap them up while you can.

Clark Street Bakery – Brentwood
11702 Barrington Ct.

Clark Street Bakery – Echo Park
331 Glendale Blvd.

Thandai 

In honor of Holi this weekend and into early next week, KC Paan and Chaat House in Artesia will brew up batches of thandai, available in single-servings or by the gallon. The chilled sweet milk drink is infused with flavors of saffron, pistachio and rosewater—the perfect drink to kick off the beginning of spring.

KC Paan and Chaat House – Artesia
18630 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia

Kesar pista kulfi 

Saffron Spot offers a variety of conventional ice cream flavors, but this longtime Artesia ice cream shop’s traditional South Asian iced custard, known as kulfi, is worth forgoing your traditional scoop. Made of boiled milk, kulfi is denser and creamier than ice cream, and is often served in popsicle form or sliced up on a plate. At Saffron Spot, small squares of kesar pista kulfi—available all year—derive their bright yellow color from saffron and come topped with crushed pistachios. (You can also find it in three other flavors: mango, straight pistachio and malai, a mix of milk, cardamon and assorted nuts.)

Saffron Spot – Artesia
18744 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia

Bastani 

Those familiar with the city’s Iranian diaspora and Tehrangeles might already be familiar with flavors of kesar pista in the form of ultra-thick Persian bastani, the bright yellow, pistachio-dotted ice cream infused with saffron and rosewater that tastes best sandwiched between two sugar wafers. You can find it year-round at Saffron and Rose in Westwood and both locations of Mashti Malone’s—the latter of which will let you roll your ice cream sandwich in pistachios and other toppings for 75 cents extra. 

Saffron and Rose – Westwood
1387 Westwood Blvd

Mashti Malone’s – Westwood
1898 Westwood Blvd

Mashti Malone’s – Hollywood
1525 N La Brea Ave

Photograph: Time Out/Patricia Kelly Yeo



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