SAFFRON JEWELED RICE


The winter season is, at its heart, about hospitality. We open up our homes and invite others to step inside and take the chill off, join us for a full-blown holiday party, an informal gathering of friends, a family dinner. Slightly decadent foods that are bursting with flavor (butter, sugar, nuts, fruit....you are the siren song of my holiday season) are mandatory, both for that convivial feeling and to stave off the cold.

I made this saffron-infused rice dish for an imagined New Year's Eve gathering (as part of a styled shoot that I'll reveal here on the blog soon!) inspired by jewel tones and rich flavors. Though it's based on a traditional Persian dish called 'jeweled rice', I'll be the first one to admit that my technique is less than traditional in approach, leaning heavily on ad-libbing and 'things I like' vs. 'the way it's done.' I didn't use dried barberries, for example, a common-enough Middle Eastern ingredient that's less common and harder to find here. I like the ruby glow of pomegranate seeds in this dish so much better, and the satisfyingly juicy, caviar-like pop as each one yields between your teeth in the middle of a warm bite of rice. I didn't use the required amount of sugar (most recipes call for the carrots and orange zest to be candied in syrup before mixing in, which frankly, is just way too much sweetness for me). And my largest crime against tradition? I didn't go for the extra step at the end and allow the rice to steam in a heavy-bottomed pot until browned and crispy on the bottom. This delicacy, known as tahdig, is unbelievably delicious to anyone who loves browned crispy things (which at last count was, like, 100% of the population) and.........I have never once been able to make it properly. If anyone wants to help me complete my rice education, teach me this! I'm in your hands.

Still, I'm pretty satisfied with the way this streamlined version of an elegant dish turned out in my kitchen. Rich & fragrant, it't the perfect opportunity to be a little extravagant and use slightly spendy ingredients like saffron and pistachios, plus plenty of butter because.......winter. The sweetness of dried fruit and carrots contrasts so nicely with the tartness of orange juice and zest, and the earthy quality of saffron ties it all together. Celebrate the dead of winter with pops of the brightest colors imaginable on your shared table, a winter sun to light the path into the new year!


Saffron Jeweled Rice

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup diced yellow or white onion
1 cup grated carrot
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup diced dried apricots
1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios
2 cups long grain rice (Basmati is preferable)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
salt & pepper, to taste


Heat orange juice just until warm to the touch, add saffron and let infuse.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until just softened, then add grated carrot and continue to cook while stirring for about 3 more minutes. Add saffron liquid, orange zest, spices, apricots, pistachios, and remaining butter. Stir until butter has melted and spices are fragrant, then remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse the rice in a few changes of cold water, until the water that runs off is clear. Drain and set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the rinsed rice and boil until grains are tender, then drain well in a colander and return to pot while still hot.

Gently re-warm the saffron butter mixture if it has cooled, then drizzle over cooked rice and stir until fully combined. Place a lid on the pot and let everything steam in the residual heat for five minutes.

Fold in pomegranate seeds, then serve. A wide platter is great for presentation, or a pretty bowl in a contrasting color. For our New Year's Eve styled shoot, we actually served this as an appetizer, spooned into the crunchy 'cups' of pale green endive leaves. More on that coming soon!