Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sweet saffron pilaf (Zarda)

We've previously posted Patiala pilaf and Banaras-style pilaf recipes; this pilaf is just as easy to make as those two, but is slightly sweet, and thus adds a different note to the dishes it's served with (it's also tasty just eaten by itself). Since this pilaf is made with saffron, the rice has a nice yellow hue when complete. We just made this dish tonight to go along with our Moghul braised chicken, and thus it's this week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

And, as I've said in our prior two pilaf recipes, if all you've ever eaten are American-style pilafs ("I cooked my rice with chicken stock; now it's a pilaf"), you're in for a pleasantly flavorful surprise.

2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water, plus more to rinse the rice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon saffron, mixed into 2 tablespoons of water (see step 4)
10 whole cloves
8 green cardamom pods
1 3" cinnamon stick
1/2 cup raisins (we use jumbo golden raisins)
1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar

1. Rinse the basmati rice repeatedly with water in a large bowl until the water draining off is mostly clear.
2. Drain as much of the rinsing water from the rice as you can, and then add 4 cups of fresh water. Let soak for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the rice, reserving the soaking water (it will be used to cook the rice later).
4. Put the saffron into a small bowl or cup, and crush it with your fingers or the back of a spoon1. Add 2 tablespoons of water, and stir to mix, again crushing the threads with the back of a spoon as you do so.
5. Heat the oil in a nonstick pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add all the whole spices (cloves, cardamom pods, and the cinnamon stick) and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown (~1-2 minutes)
6. Add the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice turns translucent (~5 minutes; Sahni states the rice should begin to brown, but it never does for us).
7. Add the reserved soaking water, saffron water, raisins, salt, and sugar; stir to mix. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. At the end of this time the water should be mostly absorbed.
8. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible, raise the pot above the burner (we set it on a wire roasting rack placed over the burner), and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
9. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
10. Fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.


You can leave the whole spices in the dish when you serve it, but should probably avoid eating them. This recipe is from Sahni (1980); we've reduced the amount of saffron added by about half, due to its expense.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 369-370.

1 Sahni (1980) reports that you should grind the saffron into a powder before adding the water; we've never been able to do this (our saffron just sticks to the side of the bowl and stays whole).

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