This Persian saffron rice recipe combines sweet and savory flavors with fragrant rice. Make this recipe tonight as a delicious side for any meal.
Different countries around the world have their own versions of saffron rice, and they all vary in both ingredients and preparation method. What makes Iranian saffron rice stand out is that it has fewer ingredients, and a mellower, almost soothing flavor.
Also, the beautiful golden hue of the rice comes from cooking it with saffron strands rather than turmeric.
I enjoy this served with Roasted Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce.
INGREDIENT NOTES and SUBSTITUTIONS
Note:This is just a partial list of ingredients. For the full ingredient list, see the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Basmati rice - It’s important to use long-grain basmati rice to get the right flavor and texture. Other varieties have more starch, causing the cooked grains to stick together more. Basmati rice, like Jasmine rice, is also specifically cultivated to bring out the distinct flavors of Asian and Indian cuisine.
- Almonds - I like to use Marcona almonds because they have extra flavor, but regular blanched, slivered almonds will work just fine.
- White pepper - While white pepper is made from the same berries as black pepper, it’s processed differently and is more commonly used in Asian cuisine. There’s a difference of opinion on whether the spice is milder or hotter than black pepper. It definitely has more of an earthy flavor overall.
- Garnish - Traditionally, Persian yellow rice is topped with dried barberries. Since these can be hard to find in the US, you can use a handful of pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, or chopped dried cherries instead. Doing so adds a pop of color and tart flavor to complement the spices in the rice.
Persian yellow rice recipe
There are multiple steps to cooking the rice itself, but then it comes together quickly with the added fruit and spices. Give yourself about 3 hours to make this from start to finish, but the flavors are well worth the wait!
Cook the rice
- Start by rinsing the grains until the water runs clear.
- Then, soak the rice for 1 to 2 hours in a bowl of salt water. Drain and rinse.
- Boil the rice in more salted water, stopping just before it’s fully cooked.
- Drain and rinse again, then let sit to continue draining.
Combine with the other ingredients
- Saute the almonds in melted butter, then add the dried apricots and cook for a few more minutes.
- Mix in half of the rice along with the salt and pepper.
- Flatten everything into the pan, then spoon the other half of the rice over the top.
Second cook (steam)
- Pour more melted butter and water over the top of the rice.
- Cover with a lid and cook on the lowest heat setting. Or, use a heat diffuser to prevent the rice from burning on the bottom of the pan.
- While the rice is cooking, soak the saffron strands in hot water to release their flavor.
Flavor and serve
- Once the rice is fully cooked, pour the saffron mixture over the rice.
- Lay a tea towel over the pan, securing it with the lid, and let sit for about 10 minutes so the rice can soak up the saffron.
- Then, spoon the layered rice onto dishes or fluff first to mix everything together.
- For extra flavor and texture, sprinkle the dishes with garnish before serving.
- Storage - Transfer to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Reheating - To easily reheat leftovers of Iranian saffron rice, use a microwave set for medium power. Adding a splash of water to the dish will help keep the rice moist. Or, mix with a little melted butter in a pan on the stove and use that to warm the rice through.
- Heat diffuser - This is a great kitchen too to help stove top burners to evenly distribute heat. Doing this prevents hot spots and keeps more delicate foods like Persian saffron rice from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan as well.
Apricot Persian Saffron Rice
- 2 cups basmati rice
- ½ cup butter
- ⅔ cup blanched almonds (See Note 1)
- 3 oz dried apricots coarsely chopped, quartered
- ¼ tsp saffron threads
- 1 tsp salt and white pepper (See recipe instructions)
- Rinse the rice well under running cold water, then put the rice in a large bowl, cover it with lukewarm water and stir in 2 tablespoons of salt. Allow to soak for 1 to 2 hours. Drain and rinse again.
- Bring medium pot of water to a boil, add 2 more tablespoons of salt, then add the rice and boil gently for 3 to 4 minutes, until almost cooked (See Note 2). Drain, rinse and set aside to drain completely.
- In the same pan, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the almonds until slightly golden, about 4 minutes (2 minutes if using Marcona almonds). Add the chopped dried apricots, cook for a 3 more minutes, then stir in half a teaspoon of white pepper, half teaspoon salt and half of the rice.
- Gently flatten down the rice, tapping to flatten using your fingers or spatula, then spoon the remaining rice on top.
- In a small bowl slightly crush saffron threads and stir in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Allow saffron to bloom.
- Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and pour over the top, along with 3 tablespoons of water. Cover the pan with a tight lid and cook on the lowest possible heat for 35 minutes (I use a heat diffuser on top of burner like when using a tagine). Turn off the heat, drizzle the saffron and its water over, cover with a tea towel, put the lid back on and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Serve hot, using a large spoon, scooping the two layers of rice together, or toss to mix.
- I like to use Marcona almonds and roughly chop them. Marcona almonds are blanched, then roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Feel free to use blanched, slivered almonds.
- Check the rice by trying a grain. It should still have a little bit of bite to it.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.