Named as such for the sparkling colours, this is a striking rice pilaf that is made for festive occasions – like Easter! It’s a bright yellow Persian saffron rice that’s flavoured with spices and mixed with a jumble of fruit and nuts. Stunner to look at – and eat!
Jewelled rice pilaf
There are many rice dishes on this website, but this is the crown jewel of them all. Just LOOK at that colour! And the flavour – WOW. It’s a fruit-nut pilaf delicately perfumed with traditional Persian spices – cumin, fennel, cinnamon, all spice and cardamom – with that unmistakable, intoxicating scent and bright yellow colour that you only get from the world’s most coveted spice: saffron.
While this Persian /Middle Eastern rice is flavoured enough to make you want to eat it straight out of the pot, the flavour is still mild enough so it’s suitable to serve alongside bold flavoured mains. Think – Persian Lamb Shanks, Chicken or Lamb Shawarma, lamb koftas, chicken or vegetable tagine. For more, see here for all Middle Eastern recipes. Also, Mediterranean food will pair beautifully and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to serve this alongside a roast chicken or a roast lamb.
And finally, a new one on offer – fish koftas. Coming this Wednesday, created especially to serve on this pilaf!
Ingredients in Jewelled Rice Pilaf
Let’s stuff with the fun ingredients in this pilaf: the add-ins and flavourings. 🙂
Add-ins and flavourings
Saffron – This is an exotic spice used in Middle Easter / Persian cooking. It’s famous for being the world’s most expensive spice, reflecting the labour intensive production. There’s 3 tiny strands in each flower which blooms for only one week every year!
Saffron makes anything it touches a bright vibrant yellow with a subtle perfume of earthy flavour unlike anything other spice.
Find it in large grocery stores (here in Australia), Middle Eastern/Persian stores and online.
Better value substitutes – I freely use turmeric in place of saffron, for a similar yellow colour albeit it doesn’t have the same flavour. Imitation saffron powder will provide the colour but doesn’t provide flavour. To be honest, there’s plenty of other flavour in this pilaf from the spices, so it’s actually fine to use imitation.
Spices – Cumin and fennel seeds, cardamom, all spice and a cinnamon stick. This is a combination of spices that reflects the Persian / Middle Eastern roots of this pilaf.
Note: I choose to use cumin and fennel seeds and a cinnamon stick rather than powder because you end up with a more vibrant yellow rice. If you use powder then the rice ends up a slightly brown colour so when you add the saffron, it’s a slightly more muddied yellow colour.
Bay leaves – Aromatic added to cook the rice.
Lemon – We use the zest only, for a perfume of lemon flavour. It adds that little touch of extra-something.
Fruit and nuts – I use almonds, pistachios, apricots, golden raisins and cranberries. This is a combination that I think provides colour (green from pistachios, orange apricots, yellow rather than black raisins) as well as a good flavour combination.
Other – You can really make this pilaf your own! Sultanas, raisins, figs, peach, cherries, mangoes, pineapple all would work here. For nuts, I’d suggest walnuts, cashews, macadamias and non-nuts like pepita. Peanuts would be a little out of place, I think.
The rice part
No less important but let’s face it, not as exciting as all the add-ins. 😊
Basmati rice – this is the traditional rice for pilafs. The rice grains are distinctively long with a perfume of flavour.
Other rice that will work – long grain and jasmine rice. Medium grain rice will also work though the rice will be a touch stickier (because that’s how the rice is).
Please do not use: wild rice, risotto, paella rice, brown rice or faux rice (quinoa, cauliflower rice etc).
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that has a more concentrated butter flavour because it’s 100% fat. Stored in pantry not in fridge. Make your own or just use butter.
Onion and garlic – Flavour base aromatics.
Stock rather than water, for better flavour. I use vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian but chicken stock works great too.
How to make Jewelled Rice Pilaf
Grind the saffron threads into a powder. This extracts more flavour and colour out of it – we want to do this for the world’s most expect spice!!! If you don’t have a mortar and pestle that’s ok, just soak the strands, it will still work.
Soak – Add a bit of boiling water and mix. Set aside to steep while the rice cooks, and the colour will intensify.
It’s no harder than making plain white rice, except we start with sautéed aromatics that adds so much flavour to the end result!
Sauté the fennel and cumin seeds first. This brings out their flavour. Then cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. And lastly, add the cinnamon stick, cardamom and all spice powder and stir for 30 seconds – again, to bring out their flavour.
Coat rice – Add the rice and give it a good stir to coat the rice grains in all those tasty flavours.
Cooking liquid – Add the stock, bay leaves, lemon, salt, fruit and nuts.
Steam rice – Stir, bring to a simmer, then put the lid on. Reduce stove to low – but it should still be simmering gently around edges otherwise the rice is just sitting there, getting bloated in hot water. Cook for 14 minutes or until the liquid is all absorbed. Do not peek or stir while it’s cooking!
Rest – Remove the saucepan from the stove with the lid still on and set aside for 10 minutes. During this resting stage, the rice grains will finish cooking and the residual water on the surface of each grain gets absorbed, leaving you with fluffy rice rather than gluey mushy rice.
Cooked rice – This is what it looks like when you remove the lid. The rice surface will be level and the colour is a light brown. We will fluff and colour it up in the next steps!
The best part – sparkle it up!
Saffron water – Pour over half the saffron water.
Gently fluff the rice using a rubber spatula. Be very gentle! The long rice basmati rice strands are fragile, we don’t want to break them.
Repeat – Once the rice is fluffed and is mostly yellow (some white spots still expected at this stage), pour in the remaining saffron water plus the melted ghee or butter. Then gently toss again until the rice is all yellow.
Sparkling jewels! Tumble the rice onto a serving platter then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, pistachios and coriander. Then serve!
Fish koftas coming Wednesday!
As mentioned earlier, the Jewelled Rice Pilaf is pictured in post with fish koftas. Fish mixed with spices then skewered and pan fried, this is a new recipe created especially to rest atop of a big pile of this fluffy saffron rice, a magnificent Easter Friday-worthy meat-free main. You’ve never had fish like it before – and it’s so easy!
I really hope some of you give this a go one day. Even just seeing the colourful photos puts me in a good mood and makes me feel all festive!! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Jewelled rice pilaf
- 1/2 – 1 tsp saffron threads (125 – 250mg) (SUB: 1/4 tsp saffron powder OR 1/2 tsp tumeric powder) (Note 1)
- 2 tbsp boiling water
- 2 tbsp (30g) ghee or butter (Note 2)
- 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 onion , finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/8 tsp all spice
- 1/8 tsp cardamom powder
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice (Note 3)
- 2 1/4 cups vegetable stock , low sodium (or chicken)
- 3/4 tsp cooking/kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh, else dried)
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
Fruit & nuts (your choice, Note 4):
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup dried apricots , cut in 1cm / 1/3″ pieces
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup pistachios , toasted (Note 5)
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds , toasted (Note 5)
- 2 tbsp (30g) ghee or butter, melted
- 1/2 pomegranate , seeds only (Note 6)
- 2 tbsp coriander/cilantro leaves roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp roughly chopped toasted pistachios (Note 5)
- Soak saffron – Grind saffron into a powder using a mortar and pestle (Note 1). Mix in boiling water then set aside while the rice is cooking.
- Sauté – Melt ghee or butter in large saucepan over medium high heat. Add fennel and cumin, then stir for 30 seconds. Add onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon, cardamom and all spice, then stir for 30 seconds. Add rice and stir for 1 minute to coat in the beautiful flavour.
- Cook rice – Add the stock, bay leaves, lemon, salt, fruit and nuts. Stir, bring to a simmer, then put lid on. Reduce stove to low (should still be simmering gently around edges), and cook for 14 minutes. Do not peek or stir!
- Rest – Quickly check to ensure liquid is absorbed. Remove from the stove (lid still on) and leave for 10 minutes.
- Yellow! Pour over half the saffron water then very gently fluff the rice using a rubber spatula (so you don't break the long rice strands). Once mostly mixed through, add remaining saffron water and ghee. Gently toss until the rice is all yellow.
- Serve – Tumble onto serving platter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, coriander, pistachios and serve with fish koftas.
Life of Dozer
Wondering how many shots he has to suffer through before he can launch himself onto those Easter eggs (doggy friendly ones, of course!).