Saffron is known as the emperor of spices. Why? Because it’s an extremely laborious and tedious process to harvest. It can grow in extreme hot and dry climates, as well as survive in snow. But, good grains of commercial saffron need extremely precise conditions to develop their exquisite flavour. Saffron threads are taken from the insides of orchids – perhaps the rarest and most expensive branch of flowers. A grain of good commercial Saffron contains the stigmas and styles of nine flowers, and consequently 4,320 orchids are required to yield around 30 grams of Saffron. The stigmas need to be immediately dried and sealed in airtight containers, otherwise they rapidly lose their smell and flavour. Often, this attention to detail is neglected by commercial brands, who sell them in ordinary plastic jars and boxes.
Saffron itself tastes and smells like no other food on earth. It’s a harmony of various sweet flavours. It’s described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of honey, and hay. We find that our purchased variety, Sargol Saffron, also tastes strongly of Figs and Berries.
Indian families love spicing up their rice to make it tastier. Experimenting with spices and rice is fast, easy, and let’s you add flavour to an otherwise uninteresting carbohydrate. What better spice to use than Saffron? Before you collapse in shock at the idea of using such an expensive spice on rice, don’t fret. Only a few strands (less than 0.05 grams) of saffron is enough to make the rice blossom with flavour.
Recipe: Saffron Rice
Ingredients – serves 2
1 cup basmati / long grain rice, soak for an hour.
1 teaspoon (3 grams) Cumin Seeds
1 small Cinnamon Stick
small finely sliced shallot
1 teaspoon chopped ginger and garlic
1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter / ghee
7-8 strands of Saffron
3 Cardamom Pods with skin removed.
Salt to taste. Use a natural salt such as Pink Himalayan Salt for added flavour.
Optional: 1 cup of mixed vegetables (for example, corn, green peas, carrots, cauliflower – cut into small 1cm pieces)
Pound the cardamom seeds in a pestle & mortar, then set aside. In a large saucepan, boil a litre of water, add the rice, a small amount of salt and cook until soft, then drain out excess water. Heat butter / ghee on a low heat and add Cumin seeds, Cloves and Cinnamon Stick. When the Cumin Seeds change to a lovely golden color, immediately add the ginger garlic paste and fry for about 1 minute to release all the spices’ flavours. Then add the chopped shallots and cook until light pink. If adding vegetables, add now. Then add salt to taste and cook until done.
Add powdered cardamom, saffron and lastly the cooked rice. Lightly toss the rice to blend it well with the spices and vegetables. Serve hot with dal or just plain yoghurt.