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Saffron Rice Pilaf

Saffron Rice Pilaf

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Saffron rice, an Indian rice pilaf seasoned with saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest, pistachios, and almonds. Also called parsi pulao.

Photography Credit:Elise Bauer

When my friend Kerissa Barron first told me about this buttery rice pilaf, I couldn’t wait to try it. Then she told me it had saffron in it. Uh oh.

For some reason, saffron is a spice that sort of tastes like soap to me. Not a big fan. But, I’ll try just about anything once, and in this case, thank goodness. I couldn’t stop eating this saffron rice!

Elegant and Simple

Browned in clarified butter, with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, cooked in a saffron infusion, and tossed with nuts and raisins, this rice is the bomb.

Kerissa came over the other day to make it with me. Here’s what she says about it:

Whether you are making it to accompany a homemade Indian feast or simply serving alongside a roast chicken from the supermarket, this rice, specked with nuts and raisins, imbued with the golden color of saffron, and fragranced with cardamom, cinnamon, clove and orange can truly hold its own.

How to Store Saffron

You’ll only need a half teaspoon of saffron threads for this recipe, so you’ll likely have some leftover. Luckily, saffron stores quite well!

Keep it in an airtight glass jar in a cupboard away from direct sunlight. It should keep just fine for at least a least a year. As long as the strands still smell fragrant when you open the jar, the saffron is good to use.

More Ways to Cook with Saffron

  • Seafood Paella
  • St. Lucia Saffron Buns
  • Provencal Seafood Bisque
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Pressure Cooker Weeknight Paella with Chicken and Sausage

Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe

To make clarified butter for this recipe, melt 4 tablespoons of sliced unsalted butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Let the butter foam up, which releases its moisture. When the foaming subsides a bit, you may see solids in the melted butter beginning to brown, remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel (to strain out the solids) into a bowl.

Sometimes depending on how the rice was packed, it will need to be rinsed before cooking, especially rice that you buy in large bulk bags. If there is powdery stuff around the rice, you'll need to rinse it. If this is the case with your rice, rinse it until the rinsing water runs clear, and spread the rice out to dry on a large baking sheet. Make sure it is completely dry before frying.


  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (see Recipe Note)
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 small (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • Zest from one orange (about 1 1/2 teaspoons, packed)
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons blanched slivered or sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins


1 Soak saffron in hot water: Heat a large kettle of water (a little more than a quart) to boiling. Place saffron in a small bowl, cover with 2 tablespoons of the hot water, set aside.

2 Fry the spices: Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter in a 2 quart, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat until hot. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns to the pan. Gently fry the spices for 2 minutes.

3 Brown the rice: Add rice, and fry for 3 more minutes, stirring after a minute or two. Some of the rice should brown at the bottom of the pan.

4 Add water and seasonings, and cook: Remove the pan from heat. Add four cups of the hot water you prepared in step one to the pan, taking care to add slowly as it may bubble up and splatter. Add two teaspoons of salt. Add the saffron threads and their soaking liquid. Add the orange zest.

Stir, bring quickly to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cover tightly and cook for 20 minutes.

4 Toast pistachios and almonds: While the rice is cooking, in a small frying pan, heat on medium high heat and add the pistachios and slivered almonds. Toast until lightly browned, about 3 or 4 minutes, remove from pan into a bowl.

5 Remove spices, add raisins: After 20 minutes, remove the lid from the rice, pick out the spices that have floated to the top of the rice - the cinnamon stick, any whole cardamom pods, black peppercorns or cloves.

Scatter golden raisins over the top of the rice. Replace the lid and cook for 5 more minutes.

6 Stir in the toasted almonds and pistachios and serve.

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Recipe: Saffron Rice Pilaf

Saffron pulao is an elegant accompaniment to your favorite Indian dishes and is traditionally served as part of Indian festival meals. Saffron, being one of the most expensive spices in the world, adds to the mystery and fragrance of this dish. It is definitely a keeper when you want to make an everyday dinner special.

I like to serve this when I have guests coming over and I want something more special than plain steamed rice. I also add lightly toasted cashews and raisins to my pulao, and they add a delicious sweet and nutty element to the pulao.

Pulaos — or pilafs, as they are often also called — can be made with several different ingredients, like seasonal vegetables and meats, and are very regional. The difference between pulao and biriyani is that biriyani is a layered rice dish, while a pulao tends to be cooked all together. Pulaos are also traditional all over the Middle East, and not just the sub-continent.

This saffron pulao can also be turned into biriyani rice by layering it with slow cooked meats, seafood or vegetables.

See our tutorial for cooking perfect basmati rice for step-by-step instructions:

→ How To Cook Perfect Basmati Rice

Related Video

Very tasty rice recipe. Perhaps a tad too oily - I might try to cut back on the butter slightly. Had to use veggie broth in the absence of chicken broth, but was quite happy with the result. Will be making again for sure.

Nice flavor and very easy

Easy, lovely rice recipe. I've made this several times, and got a lot of compliments. The only change I made after the first time I cooked it is to add raisins or sultanas to the rice and let it cook together (so they get soft) it adds extra flavor to it.

Simple, elegant, and delicious. Worthy of a special occasion and everyday meals.

A well done pilaf! This will be a constant on our table. Suggestion. 1-2 drops of Almond extract during the final rice cook REALLY brings out some subtle flavors. You'll enjoy this addition.

This dish is superb. The only change I made was to use a strong Garlic Salt instead of just salt. Simple yet elegant and open for all kinds of variations. Such as added mushrooms or chicken pieces. We use it as a bed for chicken and/or pork chops. Very simple and not overly expensive.

A little bland . but I would do it again. I added some frozen green peas to add some colour. Good basic recipe. Served with a whole chicken I roasted in the slow cooker.

Delicious and incredibly easy. Rice was done after 15 minutes.

Nice. We used scallions instead of onion and then added chopped scallion greens with the almonds.

Excellent basic pilaf recipe. I would suggest only using chicken broth instead of mixing it with water, unless the broth is very salty. Will do again!

I tend to kill rice, so the method on this one caught my eye -- turned out wonderful (omitted saffron, as I was going for a broth/onion rice to begin with).

This was my first time making a pilaf. It was so easy, and really delicious. I will be making this a lot!

This was excellent. Like the poster below, I love my rice fluffy. It had just the right amount of flavoring as a side dish, not to overpower. Due to an empty fridge, I served it next to steak and steamed green beans. I did leave out the almonds, as I already had those in the beans. A definite keeper.

This was simple and a very nice taste. I would definetly recommend this recipe.

I used shallots as well, since I like their flavor better. I thought it was delicious, but certainly simple in terms flavors, and not strong enough to stand on it's own (but the saffron is so delicious!) It was easy to make and I'll make it again. My partner thought he would prefer it without the almonds, saying they competed too strongly with the saffron flavor, but I enjoyed the mixed texture they provided.

My husband and I loved this rice. It was simple, flavorful and the toasted almonds really make it. I love rice when it is dry and not mushy or runny.

It was very good,just not great I'll make it again.

I didn't care for this rice dish. It was bland and tasteless, even though I served it with a flavorful meat. I omitted the almonds because I didn't have them in the house, but I don't think they would have made much of a difference. (Of course, I am Indian so I am used to rice full of flavors. Try making a rice pulao sometime in lieu of this!)

I made this dish as part of the final practical exam for my Food Prep class. The chef/instructor loved it, and so did I. Easy (I had a lot of other cooking to do) and elegant, especially with the addition of the toasted almonds at the last minute for some extra crunch.

Paired this dish with the roasted halibut with tomatoes, saffron and cilantro. It was a match made in heaven! Also used shallot and added a little fresh cilantro.

A perfect, simple rice dish. I followed the advice of substituting shallots for the onion, and it was delicious (and a bit more elegant). I served it with lemon-caper chicken, and roasted asparagus and portobello mushrooms. Definitely a keeper!

Outstanding! Everyone, from my 6 year old daughter to me 73 year old friend raved about this. Just the right amount of saffron flavor, and almond crunch. This will be a regular side dish here!

An excellent side dish for Orange Roughy baked in parchment. It took closer to 23 minutes for all liquid to be absorbed, but an earlier poster fixed that problem by increasing the amount of rice. This will definitely be added to my regular offerings.

Simple but elegant -- I served this with garlic/rosemary lamb chops and it was great. I made one important change, though -- the recipe called for too much liquid. I used 1-1/3 cups of rice -- my standard proportion for 2 c. liquid -- and it was perfect.

Used shallots instead of onion and parsley. Very tasty. Served with chicken marsala

How to Make Saffron Rice

This dish is made in the style of a Rice Pilaf. The rice is rinsed, then toasted in softened onion and saffron, then simmered in chicken stock, covered with a lid, until tender.

Prep the Rice

Start by rinsing the basmati rice thoroughly under running water for two minutes:

This is a fundamental I learned long ago from The Science of Good Cooking (affiliate). Rinsing, not soaking, makes for the best rice. This helps remove excess starch, which will give us more separate and fluffy grains later on.

Prep the Aromatics

Place some chopped onion and ghee in a skillet, then crumble saffron threads by rubbing between your fingers:

Cook all of this together over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onion has softened:

Toast the Rice

Add the rinsed rice to the skillet and increase the heat to medium high. Stir it all around for about 3 minutes, which should cook away the moisture and begin to turn the rice opaque.

Add Chicken Stock

Add chicken stock to the pan, and increase the heat to high.

Wait for the chicken stock to come to a boil, about a minute or two, then reduce the heat to medium low so the chicken stock is at a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid.

Cook the Saffron Rice!

Let the rice cook, covered with the lid, for about 18-20 minutes.

By the end, the liquid should be full absorbed and the rice fluffy and tender:

Stir everything well with a spatula, then replace the lid and let the rice sit off the heat for 10 more minutes in the pan.

The rice is now ready to eat!

This dish goes well with tons of main course meat dishes. I’ve paired it with Beef Stew, Peruvian Chicken, and Braised Lamb Shanks. Enjoy!

Recipe Summary

  • 2 pinches of saffron, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the saffron and boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse the rice under cold water. Place the rice, 1 3/4 cups water, and saffron in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.

Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, season with salt and pepper, and either spoon into the bouillabaisse or serve on the side.

Savory saffron threads give this whole grain rice pilaf its signature yellow color and earthy, floral flavor. Our Success® Brown Rice adds nuttiness and whole grain goodness. Try out this simple and creamy version of rice pilaf for your next lunch or dinner. Once you try it, we guarantee that you’ll want to make it on a weekly basis!

Prepare rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, pour cream into a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds. Add saffron threads and let stand for 2 minutes, then stir cream until it turns yellow. Set aside.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add onions and peas and sauté for 2 minutes.

Stir in hot cooked rice, saffron cream, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Recipe Tips

Although this recipe is naturally vegetarian, to make it vegan, substitute in cashew cream or another vegan variety of cream.

More Than a Simple Side

This rice pilaf isn’t just a simple side dish. The saffron-infused cream mixed with the %100 whole grain Success® Brown Rice makes this an ideal addition to any meal. You can also turn this into a main dish by topping it with your protein of choice, like shredded chicken or legumes, such as beans or lentils.

Once you master this Creamy Saffron Rice Pilaf, try your hand at our other pilaf recipes, like this Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Rice Pilaf.

Hassle-Free Side

Simple is the name of the game for this recipe! Using our Success® Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice, you can prepare a delicious dish in no time. Cooking the rice in the bag means less messy clean up. Perfectly portioned, our rice is also easy to make for any number of people. It also always comes out perfectly! With Success® Rice, you won’t have to worry about underdone or overcooked rice every again!

Feel free to try it out this dish with our Success® Boil-in-Bag White Rice or Success® Basmati Rice, as well.

Saffron Rice with Fruits and Nuts

This Persian inspired Saffron Rice studded with lightly sautéed dried fruits and nuts is a showstopper of a dish. Not as fancy or time consuming as a biryani, this special dish is just perfect for any festive occasion and even as an offering / prasad as it has no onions or garlic.

I love how bejewelled this rice dish looks from the green of the pistachios, the reds of the cranberries and the plumped up raisins!

Tips to making a perfect saffron rice:

  1. Use pure saffron powder or gently toasted saffron strands powdered with some granulated sugar in a small mortar-pestle.
  2. Use fragrant long grain basmati rice.
  3. Use good quality ghee to toast the dried fruit and nuts, as well as the rice for the best flavour.

[TIP: Keep nuts like cashews and almonds in sealed bags in the freezer to make them last longer and prevent them from turning rancid.]

What can you serve saffron rice with? Any spicy curry will pair well with this mild saffron rice.

Saffron Pilaf with Nuts and Currants

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 1/4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
  • 1/4 cup ghee, or canola oil
  • One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 10 green cardamom pods, pounded in a mortar and pestle to break open the shells
  • A 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar


Combine the rice and water in a medium bowl and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the water. Set the rice and water aside separately.

Meanwhile, toast the saffron in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring and pulling the skillet off the heat occasionally to keep the saffron from burning, until the saffron darkens to a maroon color and is fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer the threads of saffron to a mortar and crush to a coarse powder with a pestle (alternately, you can crush the saffron in a bowl with the back of a spoon). Stir in the milk or cream and set aside.

Combine the ghee or oil, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and ginger in a medium heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the currants and nuts and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the reserved water, turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer very gently for 15 minutes.

Uncover the rice and sprinkle it evenly with sugar and drizzle the saffron mixture over the top. Reduce the heat to very, very low heat, cover, and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Serve hot.

Flavorful Vegan Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe Traveling around Nicaragua for the past two weeks has been amazing (as you can see from both my instagram accounts). The people are friendly, the landscapes gorgeous, with lakes, lagoons and coastlines for miles. As in I can no longer think and am functioning on about 15% levels of energy (both mental and physical). I mean I am clearly not meant to tolerate heat well. Pretty much daily I reach an new all time record high external body temperature it seems. Literally I have never been hotter before in my life. Am I exaggerating? Most likely. But when you’re this hot, you’re not really going to downplay anything. And to top that off, for one reason or another D and I decided to book ourselves into a hostel with a private room that has pretty much zero air flow. There are 2 fans, both a ceiling one and a stand up one and they do not even bring the temperature down a notch. Now yes I do have to admit that for a mere $15 D and I could have purchased the daily rights to the A/C remote and use that in the room. It’s just the principle of it though. If it had already been built into the price then fine, but to allow the room rate to jump up by over 50% (yes the room was $28 a night with the fan) for the A/C remote just seemed wrong. We couldn’t do it. Instead we chose to suffer – backpacker style. For some reason that made more sense at the time. I cannot even begin to explain the thinking behind that. What that’s got to do with rice pilaf you say? Well I really meant to relate the food in Nicaragua to this vegan saffron rice pilaf. We’ve been eating a lotta rice here. Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, rice for dinner. Sometimes with the beans mixed into the rice, sometimes with the beans on the side. Many times accompanied by a protein and my all time favorite – plantain chips. I have no problems with rice, but a bitta rice variety might be nice. So go forth and make this vegan saffron rice pilaf and send me pics so I can live vicariously through you eating a different style rice dish. This vegan saffron rice pilaf cooks in just 30 minutes and is light, fluffy, fragrant, and vibrant. Just look at that color. Saffron and turmeric really do color your food brilliantly. 10 Savory Saffron Recipes to Make Any Meal a Special Occasion

Many people get scared away from saffron by its price tag, and that's totally understandable—the dried crocus stamens are among the most expensive ingredients in the world, pound for pound. The good news is that just a pinch goes a long way, so it costs very little to infuse a single dish with saffron's copper color and musky flavor. (Check out our articles about buying and cooking with saffron and whether it needs to be bloomed before use to help familiarize yourself with the spice.)

If you're making the investment in a few ounces of saffron, you'll want to make the most of it. We've rounded up 10 of our favorite savory saffron recipes to get you started, from a classic, fragrant Milanese-style risotto to real-deal French bouillabaisse to a simple dinner of roasted chicken and potatoes. More interested in saffron's sweet applications? You'll find our flourless orange-saffron cake and saffron, honey, and orange ice cream plenty tempting.

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I'm Shashi - the photographer, recipe developer, and head food monger on here

where you will find easy fusion recipes with a healthy(ish) spin. The inspiration for most of these fusion recipes comes from my early years in Sri Lanka and The UAE.
I'm so glad you stopped by and I hope you find a recipe or 2 that inspires you to add a spice-a-licious spin to the food on your plate.