This vibrant Sweet Saffron Rice, studded with raisins and almonds, can be served as a luxurious side dish or warm dessert. Perfect for celebrations and special occasions.
This easy Saffron Rice recipe (Meetha Pullao) makes a beautiful, bright yellow rice pilaf, studded with dried fruits and nuts. A classic Indian recipe, this simple, straightforward dish can be served as a delicate side or warm dessert.
Sweet saffron rice is so delicious - we would eat it every week if we could! When served with a meal, its fragrant, aromatic flavors act as an excellent counterpoint to all kinds of savory dishes.
Saffron Rice Ingredients
While you can make saffron rice with turmeric instead of saffron and serve it any time you want, we usually reserve it for special occasions, and gatherings of family and friends. Without exception, everyone we've ever served it to immediately falls in love with it.
- Rice: We always use basmati rice. It doesn't stick together at all, and has a nice mouthfeel. Long grain Jasmine rice, or American long grain rice also work well.
- Saffron: Nothing matches the luxurious, ineffable flavor that saffron brings to the table.
- Cardamom: Use green cardamom pods.
- Cinnamon: Use a whole cinnamon stick.
- Milk: This recipe requires you to first bloom the saffron, which means adding it to a liquid to extract its trademark color and flavor into a liquid. While there are a number of techniques to bloom saffron, we have always used Madhur Jaffrey's milk-soak technique for this recipe.
- Ice blooming is another affective approach, especially if you avoid dairy.
- Ghee: Use ghee or clarified butter. Both clarified butter and ghee are regular butter with the water and milk solids removed. This leave pure butter fat, which has a more intense butter flavor and higher smoke point.
- Sugar: Use regular white sugar.
- Dried fruits: We usually use golden raisins (keeping with the gold and yellow theme). Chopped dried apricots are also delicious in this rice dish.
- Almonds: Traditionally, this dish is made using slivered or sliced almonds.
- Salt: We always use kosher salt for this recipe.
How to Make Sweet Yellow Rice
Heat milk in a small bowl until it is steaming. Sprinkle the saffron threads into the hot milk and allow to soak for a couple of hours.
For deeper flavor, you can toast the saffron threads in a dry skillet for a few seconds first, until they become a little deeper red. Be careful if you do this though: that is spice gold you're playing with there!
While the saffron is soaking, wash the rice several times, until the water runs clear.
Drain and then soak the rice in water for 30 minutes. Drain in a wire sieve for 20 minutes, or until the saffron if ready. (I have, on occasion, done this all in 10 minutes.)
Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C).
Heat the ghee or clarified butter in a large skillet over medium heat. If you are using whole spices, add them at this time and sauté for about 30 seconds.
Add the rice and sauté gently for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add 3 cups of water and the salt. Gently stir rice and cook until all the water is absorbed.
Stir in the saffron milk, dried fruits and/or nuts, ground spices, and sugar.
Cover very tightly, and put into the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
While 325°F (163°C) is the optimal cooking temperature, this dish can be cooked at:
- 300° (150°C) for 30 minutes
- 325° (163°C) for 25 minutes
- 350° (177°C) for 20 minutes
This allows you to cook it with whatever else you are making in the oven.
We like to bake saffron rice in a nice casserole dish that goes from oven to table, but you can also just cover and cook it directly in the skillet.
Remove any whole spices before serving.
Where to Buy Saffron
Saffron, as you probably know, is by far the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron comes from the crocus sativus plant, and is incredibly labor intensive to produce. Each saffron flower only has three threads, or "stigmas," and each stigma must be hand-harvested. It takes over 13,000 stigmas to make one ounce of saffron threads.
Choose Responsible Saffron Sources
When buying saffron, you need to be especially concerned about where (and from whom) it is sourced. High-quality saffron is produced primarily in Spain, India, Iran and some Pennsylvania Amish communities; however, there is also a lot of "fake" saffron out there, enticing consumers with too-good-to-be-true prices.
Essentially shredded bark, the flavor and aroma of this knock-off stuff doesn't hold a candle to the real thing. (Nothing does.) Be safe and only purchase your saffron from reputable, fair-trade spice dealers.
Even when purchasing high-quality, legitimate saffron, there's also the whole question of finding a product that is responsibly grown, sustainable, and ethically sourced. Saffron is one of the few crops in the world that must still be hand-harvested, and historically, that work has been done by child laborers. Ethical saffron costs more, but the flavor is a lot sweeter, if you know what I mean.
Currently, we purchase our saffron from The Savory Spice Shop in Portland's Sellwood District, most recently to the tune of $13 a gram. We can make three or four batches of Saffron Rice from one gram of saffron threads.
Saffron: For everyday eating, turmeric makes an acceptable replacement in this recipe. Substitute ½ teaspoon turmeric plus a pinch of paprika for the saffron.
Cardamom: If you are making this as a quick, easy rice dish, you can substitute a ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom, adding it at the same time as the raisins and almonds.
Cinnamon: Substitute a ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, adding it at the same time as the raisins and almonds.
Almonds: Chopped hazelnuts (filberts), macadamia nuts, cashews, or pistachios all make good substitutes.
The length of time rice lasts can vary wildly depending on its preparation. In the case of this rice recipe, it will last for four to five days in an air-tight container in the fridge.
Edible gold leaf is an easy way to bring some real razzle-dazzle to your holiday table.
Edible gold is produced in impossibly thin sheets about 0.5 micron thick. (A human hair is 60 microns.) It is sold as sheets and flakes that can be used to decorate foods and float on top of fancy cocktails. Gold has no flavor and is considered biologically inert, meaning it passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed.
Edible gold leaf isn't cheap, and so it is usually reserved for celebrations. Just a few well-placed edible gold flakes can transform a simple dish, like this saffron rice recipe, into true luxury fare.
If you purchase edible gold leaf, be sure to buy only quality products, as cheaper options can contain impurities.
This recipe was adapted from Meetha Pullao, as found in Madhur Jaffney's classic, Indian Cooking (1982).
What to Serve with Saffron Rice
Saffron rice pairs especially well with curries, and roasted vegetables and proteins (i.e., beef, chicken, and fish).
Sweet Saffron Rice
- 1 Enameled Cast Iron Skillet or large heavy skillet
- 1 covered casserole dish optional
Prep Saffron & Rice
- Heat milk in a small bowl in the microwave until it is barely steaming. Sprinkle the saffron threads into the warm milk and allow to soak for a couple of hours.
- While the saffron is soaking, wash the rice several times, until the water runs clear. Drain and then soak the rice in water for 30 minutes. Drain in a wire sieve for 20 minutes, or until the saffron if ready.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C).Heat the ghee or clarified butter in a large skillet over medium heat. If you are using whole spices, add them at this time and sauté for about 30 seconds.
- Add the rice and sauté gently for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.Add 3 cups of water and the salt. Gently stir rice and cook until all the water is absorbed.
- Stir in the saffron milk, dried fruits and nuts, ground spices, and sugar.
- Cover very tightly, and put into the preheated oven for 25 minutes.*
- Remove any whole spices before serving.
- Saffron: ½ teaspoon turmeric, plus a pinch of paprika
- Cinnamon stick: ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Cardamom pods: ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- Raisins: Chopped dried apricots
- Almonds: Chopped hazelnuts (filberts), macadamia nuts, cashews, or pistachios
Baking Temps & Times
- 300° (150°C) for 30 minutes
- 325° (163°C) for 25 minutes
- 350° (177°C) for 20 minutes
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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Originally published January 26, 2015. This post has been updated with new content, images, and recipe instructions to improve reader experience.