Saffron Rice

May 13, 2020 By Aneesha |

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This easy Saffron Rice pilaf, or Pulao, is prepared with aromatic and nutty basmati rice simmered in a floral and fragrant saffron-infused broth. This vibrant side dish is ready in less than 30 minutes in the Instant Pot, on the stove or in the microwave.

easy rice pilaf with saffron in black bowl

Floral & Fragrant Side Dish

Saffron rice is one of the quintessential recipes in Persian cuisine. Long grain basmati rice is flavored with saffron strands and simmered in a vegetable or chicken broth.

Savory versions include the addition of caramelized onions. And Persian Wedding rice is made with the addition of dried fruit and nuts.

This easy saffron rice pilaf, or pulao (another word for pilaf), is inspired by the traditional Persian side dish, with my own personal touch 🙂

It’s beautifully golden, subtly savory and delicately nutty and sweet, you’ll want to keep going back for more. Plus, it’s ready in less than 30 minutes and completely Vegetarian, Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free!

I make this floral and fragrant side dish in two ways in the Instant Pot – either prepared directly in the Main Pot or by following the Pot-In-Pot cooking technique. It can also be simmered gently on the stove, or in the microwave. I have included instructions for all methods in this post.

What Is Saffron?

Saffron is a spice that is derived from the core of a flower called saffron crocus. Each strand of saffron is carefully extracted by hand, which makes it the world’s most expensive spice (by weight). It can take 1,000 saffron flowers to produce one ounce of saffron spice.

What’s The Best Saffron to Buy?

The key to buying high-quality saffron is the color of the dried stigmas (thread-like parts of the flower) and the smell. The stigmas should be bright red and true saffron will smell like sweet hay.

Steer clear of any package or product if you see yellow. This indicates the flower was harvested with the yellow stamen, which is completely tasteless.

light golden and fragrant saffron rice in black bowl

Where To Buy and How To Store Saffron

If you have a local Middle Eastern or Indian grocery market, check there first. If not, saffron is available at Whole Foods, gourmet grocery stores or on Amazon.

Store the threads in a cool, dark, dry place, such as your spice cabinet. Alternatively, you can store the saffron threads in the freezer for up to 1 year.

What Does Saffron Taste Like? Should I Soak It Beforehand?

Saffron adds a deep floral fragrance along with a golden-yellow to a light-crimson color to dishes, depending on the quantity used.

You can bring out the best flavor of saffron by soaking it in a warm liquid, like water or milk.

How Much Saffron For Rice?

I find the right saffron-to-rice ratio is 1/2 teaspoon saffron for every 1 cup rice. This creates a rice side dish that is beautifully yellow-golden and lightly floral every time! But feel free to adjust that to your taste!

Saffron Uses in Indian, Mediterranean & Middle Eastern Cuisine

In foods, saffron is used as a spice, yellow food coloring and as a flavoring agent. That being said, most recipes call for a pinch or two of saffron, so if you invest in a small box, it’ll last a long time.

It is a commonly used spice in Indian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.

In Indian cuisine, saffron is used in many rice recipes, both sweet and savory. One of my favorite dishes and an extremely popular savory meat and rice pilaf which uses saffron is Chicken Biryani.

For sweet preparations, saffron is typically used in most Indian desserts, like Rava Kesari (Semolina Pudding) and Kheer (Rice Pudding).

What Is Persian Saffron Rice?

As mentioned before, this saffron rice pilaf is inspired by the well-known Persian saffron rice cake, Tachin or Tahchin.

It is made with a yogurt-egg-oil-saffron mixture and dried barberries (or occasionally filled with chicken, meat or vegetables), then cooked with the help of a damkoni (padded cloth that fits under the lid of a pot to catch condensation as the rice steams – similar to the way a rice cooker works).

In turn, this creates a sought-after crispy, crunchy layer of scorched rice known as tahdig.

Ingredients

This saffron rice pilaf allows the savory, floral flavor of saffron to shine. This recipe works well with both Basmati rice, as well as Jasmine rice.

You will also need saffron, water, salt, ghee (or oil), slivered almonds and optional add-ins including pine nuts and raisins.

How To Make Saffron-Infused Rice From Scratch

I prepare this quick and easy saffron rice in my electric pressure cooker, Instant Pot, in one of two ways. But this fragrant side dish can be prepared in any pressure cooker, rice cooker, on the stovetop or even in the microwave.

For best results, make sure to rinse the rice and soak the saffron beforehand. Then, prepare the rice dish in one of four ways below.

Rinse Rice & Soak Saffron:

  • Rinse rice 2-3 times, until water runs clear. If using Basmati rice, soaking the rice for 10 minutes in tap-cold water will make the rice fluffier. Rinse and drain rice after soaking. rinse it again.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of saffron in a small bowl. Using the back of a teaspoon, break down the stems into smaller pieces. Add 1 tablespoon of boiling hot water to it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Alternatively, add cold water to the saffron and microwave it for 20-30 seconds.
saffron threads in white bowl, soaking saffron in water in white bowl

Instant Pot Main Pot:

  • Add rinsed and drained rice and all other ingredients in the inner pot of the Instant Pot. Close the lid and set the valve to sealing position. Cook on Manual/Pressure Cook for 6 minutes at high pressure.
rice and saffron spice simmering in instant pot pressure cooker
  • Wait 5 minutes before manually releasing the pressure (NPR 5). Open the lid after the pin drops. Using a fork carefully fluff the rice and serve warm.
instant pot lid

Pot-In-Pot Rice:

  • Assemble rice, water and all the ingredients in any oven safe container or a bowl. Add 1 cup water, or the recommended quantity, to your inner pot. Place trivet and place the rice bowl on top of that. Close the lid and set valve to sealing position. Cook on Manual/Pressure Cook for 6 minutes at high pressure.
Steel bowl with rice, saffron and almonds placed inside the instant pot
  • Wait 5 minutes before manually releasing the pressure (NPR 5). Open lid after the pin drops. Using a fork, carefully fluff the rice.
forkful of saffron rice over instant pot

On The Stovetop:

  • For one cup of rice, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add rinsed and drained rice, salt, ghee or oil, slivered almonds, and saffron that has been soaking in warm water (see Soak Saffron above)
  • Bring the water back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. Let the rice rest for 5 minutes. Gently fluff with a fork and serve warm.

In The Microwave:

  • In a microwave safe bowl, add drained rice, 2 cups of water (for 1 cup rice), and all other ingredients, and cook it at “Rice” mode. Let the rice rest for 5 minutes after cooking. Fluff with a fork and serve warm.

Saffron Rice Recipe Variations

The addition of slivered almonds, cashews or pine nuts, raisins or dried cranberries is my go-to variation for this golden-hued side dish. But a few other variations include:

  • Spanish-Style: Add 1-2 Tablespoons tomato paste and 1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil.
  • Saffron Rice With Peas: Omit the dried fruit and nuts and stir in 1 cup thawed frozen peas after the rice is finished cooking.

Saffron Rice Pilaf Serving Suggestions

I find saffron rice pilaf to be a very versatile side as it can be paired with Indian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food.

My family likes to pair it with Mediterranean spiced proteins like, Mediterranean Spiced Chicken, Chicken Shawarma or Grilled Lamb Chops. But you can enjoy it with many Indian recipes and curries too, like the following:

easy rice pilaf with saffron in black bowl

Recipe Tips:

  • Buy high-quality saffron. Purchase saffron that is bright red in color with no signs of yellow stamens. I do not recommend saffron powder.
  • Substituting brown rice. Basmati or Jasmine white rice give the best results in this recipe. If using brown rice, please keep in mind that the flavor, texture and cooking time will be a bit different. Follow the same instructions and adjust the pressure cook time to 22 minutes followed by a 10 minute natural pressure release. 
  • Rinse and soak the rice beforehand. Rinse the rice under cool running water until the water runs clear to rid of excess starch on the surface. If using Basmati rice, soaking the rice for 10 minutes in tap-cold water will make the rice fluffier.
  • Soak the saffron threads in warm liquid. This will help to open up the spice and release its floral flavor. For quick results, I microwave the saffron threads and 1 Tablespoon water for 20-30 seconds. Alternatively, pour 1 Tablespoon boiling water over the saffron threads and allow them to bloom for 5 minutes.
  • Replace the water with vegetable or chicken stock. The addition of stock rather than water will add depth of flavor, just make sure to purchase a low-sodium variety to control the salt in the recipe. Use light-colored vegetable stock to keep this recipe Vegetarian (and golden yellow).
  • Jazz it up: To make this recipe even fancier, add a tablespoon each of raisins (or dried cranberries) and pine nuts (or cashews) while cooking. 

More Rice Recipes From My Kitchen

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easy rice pilaf with saffron in black bowl

Saffron Rice | Saffron Rice Pilaf

Saffron Rice Pilaf, or Pulao, is aromatic and nutty basmati rice simmered in a floral and fragrant saffron infused broth prepared in one of four ways.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate Recipe
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
NPR: 5 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 3 people
Calories: 278kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Basmati rice or Jasmine Rice
  • ½ teaspoon saffron soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water (I microwave saffron and water for 20-30 seconds)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ghee or oil
  • 2 tablespoon slivered almonds (optional)

Optional Add-Ins

  • Pine nuts or cashews- 1 tablespoon
  • Raisins or dried cranberries- 1 tablespoon

Instructions

Rinse Rice & Soak Saffron

  • Rinse rice 2-3 times, until water runs clear. If using Basmati rice, soaking the rice for 10 minutes in tap-cold water will make the rice fluffier. Rinse and drain rice after soaking. rinse it again.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of saffron in a small bowl. Using the back of a teaspoon, break down the stems into smaller pieces. Add 1 tablespoon of boiling hot water to it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Alternatively, add cold water to the saffron and microwave it for 20-30 seconds.

Instant Pot – Main Pot Method

  • Add rinsed and drained rice and all other ingredients in the inner pot of the Instant Pot. Close lid. Set valve to sealing position. Cook on Manual/Pressure Cook for 6 minutes at high pressure.
  • Wait 5 minutes before manually releasing the pressure (NPR 5). Open the lid after the pin drops. Using a fork carefully fluff the rice and serve warm.

Instant Pot – Pot-In-Pot Preparation

  • Assemble rice, water and all the ingredients in any oven safe container or a bowl. Add 1 cup water, or the recommended quantity, to your inner pot. Place trivet and place the rice bowl on top of that. Close the lid and set valve to sealing position. Cook on Manual/Pressure Cook for 6 minutes at high pressure.
  • Wait 5 minutes before manually releasing the pressure (NPR 5). Open lid after the pin drops. Using a fork, carefully fluff the rice.

On the Stovetop

  • For one cup of rice, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add rinsed and drained rice, salt, ghee or oil, slivered almonds, and saffron that has been soaking in warm water (see Soak Saffron above)
  • Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. Let the rice rest for 5 minutes. Gently fluff with a fork and serve warm.

In the Microwave

  • In a microwave safe bowl, add drained rice, 2 cups of water (for 1 cup rice), and all other ingredients, and cook it at “Rice” mode. Let the rice rest for 5 minutes after cooking. Fluff with a fork and serve warm.

Video

Notes & Recipe Tips

Recipe Tips:

  • Buy high-quality saffron. Purchase saffron that is bright red in color with no signs of yellow stamens. I do not recommend saffron powder.
  • Substituting brown rice. Basmati or Jasmine white rice give the best results in this recipe. If using brown rice, please keep in mind that the flavor, texture and cooking time will be a bit different. Follow the same instructions and adjust the pressure cook time to 22 minutes followed by a 10 minute natural pressure release. 
  • Rinse and soak the rice beforehand. Rinse the rice under cool running water until the water runs clear to rid of excess starch on the surface. If using Basmati rice, soaking the rice for 10 minutes in tap-cold water will make the rice fluffier.
  • Soak the saffron threads in warm liquid. This will help to open up the spice and release its floral flavor. For quick results, I microwave the saffron threads and 1 Tablespoon water for 20-30 seconds. Alternatively, pour 1 Tablespoon boiling water over the saffron threads and allow them to bloom for 10 minutes.
  • Replace the water with vegetable or chicken stock. The addition of stock rather than water will add depth of flavor, just make sure to purchase a low-sodium variety to control the salt in the recipe. Use light-colored vegetable stock to keep this recipe Vegetarian (and golden yellow).
  • Jazz it up: To make this recipe even fancier, add a tablespoon each of raisins (or dried cranberries) and pine nuts (or cashews) while cooking. 
 
If you are new to the Instant Pot, please read my FAQ on Instant Pot Terminology and Accessories to learn more.
Note: The nutrition facts below are my estimates and do not include the optional add-ins. If you are following any diet plan, I recommend cross-checking with your preferred nutrition calculator.

Nutrition

Calories: 278kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 4mg | Sodium: 395mg | Potassium: 118mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: rice, Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian, Persian
Keyword: rice pilaf recipe, saffron pulao, saffron rice instant pot, saffron rice pilaf, saffron rice recipe
Did you try this recipe?Mention @SpiceCravings or tag #spicecravings!

HEY! NICE TO MEET YOU!

Aneesha holding a glass of white wine Hi, I'm Aneesha, a foodie by birth and the mind, body and soul behind Spice Cravings. Here I share quick, easy & healthy Indian & global recipes that are low in effort and big on taste! A recipe doesn't make it on the blog unless it is tested multiple times and gets a thumbs-up from my taster-in-chief, my husband, and my teen-chefs, my twin girls!

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