Proven or not, saffron’s reputed medicinal properties date back so many years (at least to the days of Hippocrates) and its rarity is so extreme (4,000 crocus blossoms create 1 ounce of saffron), that the very act of opening a jar or bottle must be performed with ceremony and reverence. Even if you simply bought it at Trader Joe’s (a good source and a great price!) rather than ambushed a camel caravan on the Spice Road, saffron is almost worth going to war over. The most common usage is in a pilaf. We have two favorite methods of cooking saffron rice as a go-to side dish that gracefully accompanies a variety of entrees, from a hearty ratatouille to grilled meats and fish.
Basic Saffron Rice
Oliver likes adding a lemon. The acidity adds a certain clarity and seems to accentuate the saffron.
1 cup basmati rice
1 good pinch saffron threads
Pinch of salt
In a small saucepan with lid, boil 2 cups water. Add rice, saffron, lemon half and salt. Return to boil, lower heat to simmer, cover and cook until fluffy, stirring occasionally.
Brown Rice Pilaf with Saffron and Ginger
by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson (from “The Longevity Kitchen,” Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Authors Katz and Edelson report “…there’s preliminary evidence that [saffron] helps protect the kidneys, eyes, and heart and, perhaps of greatest interest, the brain.” Regarding this recipe, they say the rice is “…sautéed before cooking to avoid that sticky, gummy consistency, and ginger, parsley, and lemon zest add zing.”
YIELD: Makes 6 servings
TIME: Prep Time: 5 minutes (after soaking the rice) Cook Time: 30 minutes
1 teaspoon warm water
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon diced shallot
1 cup brown basmati rice, soaked, rinsed, and drained well
1 3/4 cups water or vegetable broth, homemade or store-bought
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 (1-inch) piece unpeeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
Combine the warm water and saffron in a small bowl. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and saffron and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is evenly coated with the oil. Stir in the water, salt, and ginger. Increase the heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Check after 20 minutes; if there are steam holes on the top, it's ready. Remove ginger. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and parsley and fluff with a fork to combine.