Saffron has been around for a very long time and its origin is quite confusing but it is believed to have been cultivated in Asia before the birth of Christ. This beautiful aromatically enticing spice is the most expensive spice in the world. Weight by weight it is more expensive than gold.
Saffron is widely used in India. It is an indispensable and quintessential element in few curries – a few toasted strands of this spice can magically enhance a regular chicken curry to being exotic and out of the ordinary. Making a pilaf with Saffron makes a mouth wateringly perfumed side dish to go with any meat or poultry curries. Beautiful Saffron sweet and salty flat bread (Parantha) can be conjured to suit the palate of those who are not fond of rice. In fact, sometimes I use saffron while making couscous to go with my Chicken stew.
Saffron can be used in sweet as well as savory. It is definitely beneficial to have this spice around in your pantry. I tend to keep a gram or two of Saffron. It brightens my mood when I see the delicious deep red filaments oozing its color into warm milk. It can almost pass as a seductive experience for me or maybe I am still in Cleopatra’s era when she used Za’feran for a hot bath making the scent linger on her skin enticing any lover to go mad with desire.
The easiest pilaf that can be made with saffron is mentioned below. I do like to use a combination of almonds, cashews and raisins in my pilaf but if you do not like these ingredients, you can easily omit them. Yes, the crunch element goes missing when you leave the nuts out but some people do not like the addition of these things into their pilafs. Also, not to mention this pilaf, unlike other pilafs, is on the sweet side. It goes very well with Raita or as I use it as a side dish for my chicken (cashew sauce) curries.
For the Saffron Rice:
· 1 cup of Basmati Rice
· 1 ½ cups of good chicken stock/ vegetable stock
· 3-4 tbsp of Clarified Butter/Ghee
· 3 medium onions finely sliced
· A stick of cinnamon
· 3 pods of cardamom
· A Handful of slivered almonds and cashews and raisins
· A good healthy pinch of Saffron
· Salt and Sugar to taste
The most important thing in prepping rice is washing and soaking it in cold water for 10-15 minutes. This process makes sure that the grains are separate even after cooking. The starch doesn’t clump the rice grains when you soak it for few minutes. I always make time for this process as I consider it as an important step.
Prep the saffron. Toast it in a pan on medium heat until it becomes a shade darker. Keep aside.
Heat a tsp of ghee in the pan and throw in the nuts and raisins. Keep tossing in a low heat, making it crunchy giving it a lusciously brown tinge. You should be able to smell the aromas of the nuts after tossing it for 5-7 minutes. It should acquire the desired color at this stage. Keep aside
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the clarified butter. If that option is not available to you, use butter instead. Pop the cinnamon and the cardamoms in the hot ghee for a minute to release its aroma. Add in the sliced onions and keep tossing it in the ghee until you get a mellow golden brown color on the onions. Chuck in the rice and stir to coat each grain of rice with the clarified butter toasting it in the process. Doing this step is important as we are ensuring that the grains are going to be separate after is completely cooked. Add the saffron and stock to the rice. Season generously with salt and sugar and make sure that the salt balances the sugar.
I like this pilaf sweet so I tend to add about a tablespoon of sugar. I give it a taste and check the seasoning in the stock and bang it in the microwave to finish the rest of the cooking. It takes about 15-18 minutes in the microwave. Once done, leave it out for a few minutes to rest before using a fork to fluff the rice. Top it up with the toasted nuts and raisins and serve!