Our jeweled-toned Saffron Rice recipe is elegant and impressive yet it only takes about 30 minutes. Easy to make, this Persian-inspired rice pilaf recipe is perfect for your next gathering or a weeknight meal.
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You can make this yellow rice recipe with or without the brightly colored herbs, pistachios, and pomegranate arils. But we say with because of the stunning presentation and unique texture they add.
I originally made this recipe for a party. I chose a variety of dishes reminiscent of different Middle Eastern cultures. This saffron rice was the star of the show.
We also serve grilled chicken skewers (an elevated version of our popular shwarma chicken wings), unleavened flatbreads, and roasted vegetables including roasted eggplant rounds and easy roasted zucchini. Along with a variety of dips and sauces.
I shared the recipe with several of our party guests and the feedback was wonderful. This recipe is so easy to make it is perfect as a weeknight side dish. But it also is so beautiful that it is a perfect addition to a holiday table.
📖Why This Recipe Works
I was surprised that this saffron rice turned out to be the perfect dish to make for a crowd. The best part is you can reheat it and get that classic Persian rice crust or make it the day of and serve it as a saffron rice pilaf.
This recipe is naturally gluten-free, and can easily be made vegan or vegetarian.
🧂What is Saffron?
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus. The taste of saffron is a cross between a floral aroma and earthy tones. A totally unique flavor.
Saffron must be hand-harvested making it the world’s most expensive spice. The crimson stigmas and styles, what we call saffron threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly in cooking. Each crocus flower only produces 3 saffron threads!
The good news is that you just need a pinch of saffron to make saffron rice. You can purchase saffron at most grocery stores. You can also buy it online. The important thing is to buy good quality saffron.
Saffron is sensitive to light, so store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. Because saffron is expensive it is best to buy it in small quantities. You want it to be fresh, this is a spice investment.
Saffron rice is present in many cultures and regions around the world. Each with its own variation. This recipe is more Middle Eastern or Persian style and that is reflected in the ingredients.
Saffron- As we have already discussed, this is an investment.
If you can’t find saffron or don’t want to invest the money in this spice you can substitute ground turmeric powder. It isn’t quite the same taste but you will achieve the same beautiful golden-yellow color that saffron lends.
Go light if using turmeric. It is a very pungent spice, a little goes a long way. Start with ½ teaspoon and work up from there. But be warned, turmeric is not nearly as good as real saffron!
White Basmati Rice- The recipe works best with long-grain rice because the starch content is lower. You can use short grain but it will be more difficult to get the perfect texture.
Using brown rice will result in a gummy texture and you won't achieve that gorgeous yellow rice that makes this dish special. To get the show-stopping yellow, you need white rice. Jasmine rice makes a good substitute if plain basmati isn't on hand.
Stock or Broth- The recipe calls for chicken broth or stock. Mainly because that is what I usually have on hand. You can absolutely use vegetable broth to make the recipe vegan.
My only caution is to not use stock that contains mushrooms. While vegetable stocks with mushrooms are great in stews and soups the earthy flavor overpowers the delicate saffron.
Ghee or Olive Oil- Both work equally well in this dish so use what works for you just make sure it is high quality, i.e. skip the vegetable oil.
Onion- Stick with the basic white or yellow onion or shallot. You don't want a sweet onion to overpower the dish. And err on the side of less is more.
Herbs- We used fresh parsley in this dish for its easy flavor and bright color. I do not recommend dried parsley flakes.
Also, you can play around with herbs, I found a recipe by a UK chef Yotam Ottolenghi that uses a mix of dill, chervil, and tarragon that I thought might be a nice variation to try.
Pomegranate- Pomegranate seeds add a bit of acid and sweetness to the dish. However, they are seasonal so dried fruits might be better to try. You can try dried cranberries, raisins, or cherries, just be sure they have no added sugar.
If using dried berries add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice before stirring in the toppings. Fresh options include red currants or serviceberries.
Pistachios- Pistachios add another layer of color and crunch to this gluten-free rice dish. I prefer to buy pre-shelled- honestly, I am a little lazy.
If you don't have pistachios on hand you can substitute pine nuts or slivered almonds. Just be sure to toast them first! Avoiding nuts? Try unsalted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
⏲️ How to Make Saffron Rice
While making saffron rice is similar to any basic rice dish there are a few details that make it special. With this recipe, I highly recommend making saffron water it is more work but totally worth it if you want to achieve the best flavor.
Step 1- Rinse the Rice
To start, soak the basmati rice in water for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse until the water runs clear. Spread the rice out on a towel or sheet pan to allow it to dry out while preparing the other ingredients.
This step removes the outer layer of starch and will prevent the rice grains from sticking together.
Step 2- Soak the Saffron
Here you can make the saffron water or bloom the saffron.
To bloom the saffron you need In a medium saucepan, heat the stock on medium-low heat until warm. Crush 2 pinches of saffron between your fingers and add to the pan and allow to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes. The longer you soak your saffron the more intense the flavor.
To make the saffron water you want to crush your saffron with a ¼ teaspoon of sugar with a mortar and pestle. You can also use a spice grinder for this. The sugar is necessary to create friction with the threads to make a saffron powder.
Transfer the powder to a small bowl and add one cup of the hot broth. Steep for 10 minutes and then add to the rest of the warm broth.
Note that traditional saffron water will have you add one cup of hot water but since we are using broth in this recipe you should use that.
Step 3- Saute
In a large pan with a well-fitting lid, melt your oil of choice over medium heat. Add the finely diced onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
Next add the rice stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until rice is slightly toasted, about 3 minutes.
Step 4- Simmer
Pour the stock with saffron over the rice mixture. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook rice for 15 minutes then shut off the heat and allow the rice to sit for 5 minutes undisturbed. Gently fluff the rice. Taste the rice for salt, and adjust as needed.
If you prefer richer-tasting rice you can stir in 2 tablespoons of butter or vegan butter at this point. Stir in the parsley, pistachios, and pomegranate arils. Or transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle on top of the rice.
🥗What to Serve with Saffron Rice
In addition to the menu above, this saffron rice pairs perfectly with our spice-crusted flank steak, our blackened cod recipe, and baked mahi-mahi recipe, or use it as a base for a rice bowl along with our crockpot shredded beef recipe.
💭 Cooking Variations
How to Make Saffron Rice Pilaf in Advanced
If you are making the rice in advance reduce the cooking time to 13 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish and cover with foil. Store in the refrigerator for up to two days.
To reheat, bake covered at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, or until heated through. Stir in parsley, pistachios, and pomegranate arils right before serving.
How to Achieve a Crusty Bottom Saffron Rice (Tahdig)
Reduce the cooking time to 10 minutes. Add ghee or vegan butter to a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the rice and cover it with a lid. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the pan 90 degrees (for even cooking) and reduce heat to low. Cook for an additional 10-15 minutes.
The Tahdig is done when the sides begin to form a golden crust. Remove the lid and place a large serving platter over the pan. Flip the rice onto the plate so the golden crust is up. Sprinkle with the pomegranate arils, pistachios, and herbs. To serve, cut like a pie.
Sorry, I don't have a picture of this version on hand!
Can you make saffron rice in a rice cooker?
Yes, you can combine the soaked saffron broth and rice and cook according to your device's instructions. However, I prefer to make this recipe on the stovetop so I can saute the onion and toast the rice. It yields the best result.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tip
Soaking the rice and heating the cooking liquid decreases the overall cooking time for the rice so don't skip these steps.
Keep leftover rice fresh for up to 5 days by storing it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or add a little water and reheat, covered, on the stovetop over low heat.
More Easy Rice Recipes
💬Frequently Asked Questions
No, Spanish saffron rice typically contains larger chopped vegetables such as red peppers, peas, and carrots along with fresh garlic.
Saffron is gluten-free, as is rice. To ensure your homemade version is gluten-free be sure to use your favorite gluten-free broth.
Did You Enjoy Making This Recipe? Please rate this recipe with ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ or leave a comment. It helps other wonderful people connect with my food.
📖 Printable Recipe Card
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 3 ½ cups chicken stock sub vegetable stock for vegan
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon saffron threads roughly 2 pinches
- 1 tablespoon ghee or extra virgin olive oil for vegan
- 1 small white onion finely diced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅓ cup fresh parsley chopped (optional)
- ½ cup shelled pistachios roughly chopped (optional)
- ½ cup pomegranate arils (optional)
- Soak the rice in water for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear. Set aside.2 cups white basmati rice
- In a medium saucepan, heat the stock on medium-low heat until warm. Add 2 pinches of saffron to the pan and allow to soak for 10 minutes.¼-1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, 3 ½ cups chicken stock
- In a large pan with a well fitting lid, melt ghee over medium heat. Add onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice stirring constantly until rice is slightly toasted, about 3 minutes.1 tablespoon ghee, 1 small white onion
- Add stock with saffron and salt to rice mixture. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook rice for 15 minutes then shut off heat and allow the rice to sit for 5 minutes undisturbed.½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Taste the rice for salt, adjust as needed. Stir in parsley, pistachios, and pomegranate arils.⅓ cup fresh parsley, ½ cup shelled pistachios, ½ cup pomegranate arils
- Store leftover rice in the fridge for up to 5 days in an airtight container.