Saffron and Modern Spice Cookbook Giveaway

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23 Nov Saffron and Modern Spice Cookbook Giveaway

Saffron

Lora has great confidence in me. She was so pleased with the Matar Paneer recipe she asked what I can do with saffron rice.

Buoyed by her enthusiasm, I headed to the Indian specialty shop and searched for saffron. There was none on the shelves. When I inquired if they had any, the clerk rummaged about under the counter and after a minute of rustling, handed me a plastic box that would barely hold a quarter. It contained a single gram of saffron threads and cost $4. Affordable in small quantities, by the pound this stuff makes solid gold and platinum look cheap.

Fortunately, with saffron a little goes a very long way.

Not wanting to waste the world’s most expensive spice, I turned to cyber-friend and food writer, Monica Bhide. Author of Modern Spice and spice columnist for the Washington Post, Bhide gave me a crash course on saffron. She says the best saffron comes from Spain, but regardless of your source:

  • Always buy saffron strands, never powdered saffron.
  • Accept no substitutes. Saffron in unique and although turmeric may be similar in colour, the taste is not the same.
  • Look for bright red saffron. The darker, the better. If the strands are dull the spice is old and won’t be flavourful.
  • Smell the saffron before you use it. It should have a strong, floral aroma.  No smell?  Bhide says, “It’s dead. Throw it away.”

Once you’ve bought this pricey spice, how to you get the most out of it?

  • Don’t use too much. “Three strands per person should be enough,” Bhide says. “More and it will be bitter.”
  • Dissolve it before using it. Saffron is water soluble so soak it in water or milk before using it to get the most out of the spice.
  • Store it in a cool, dark place. If kept in the fridge, Bhide says it will keep for a couple of years — if you haven’t used it all up before then.
  • Handle saffron carefully. Because it’s water soluble, don’t let anything wet touch the unused strands. Remove saffron from the box with dry fingers or a clean, dry spoon. Bhide also warns against using an already spice-coated spoon. “Give saffron the respect of having its own spoon,” she says.

Keep these points in mind and you’ll get your money’s worth out of each tiny box of saffron.

Do spices get you all hot under the collar? If so, you’ll be happy to know I’m giving away a copy of Modern Spice (Simon & Schuster, 2009) and Monica is providing the lucky winner a free 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about Indian cuisine. How’s that for a sweet deal?

To enter, just leave a comment describing a creative use of saffron. It might be your own recipe or one you’ve tried elsewhere. Put some thought into it since the winner won’t be random. Monica Bhide herself will judge your entries and select the winner based on your answers. Contest closes on Sunday, November 29th.

Any way, back to Lora’s saffron rice. You can get fancy by cooking the rice in chicken broth and adding sauteed onions and peas. But if you’re new to the taste of saffron, it’s best to keep it simple. Here’s an ultra-simple saffron rice recipe to get you started.

Saffron-Rice

Saffron Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 generous pinch saffron threads
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 cups water (in addition to the water above)
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Soak saffron in 1/2 cup water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a sauce pan that has a lid.
  3. Fry the rice for a few minutes in the oil over medium heat. The oil will initially turn the grains translucent. Fry until most of them turn opaque again. Do not brown the rice.
  4. Add the saffron water, additional water and salt. Stir.
  5. Put the lid on the pot.
  6. Turn the heat to low, set the timer for 18 minutes. Do not, repeat, do not lift the lid. Don’t peek to see how it’s coming along. Just leave it be.
  7. When the timer goes, remove the pot from the heat. Give the rice a quick stir and put the lid back on. Let it sit another 5 minutes.
  8. Fluff with a fork and serve.

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19 Comments
  • Monica Bhide
    Posted at 08:21h, 23 November Reply

    This is so much fun!! I love saffron. Many thanks for including me!

  • JenB
    Posted at 09:13h, 23 November Reply

    I saw someone make a saffron cappuccino on the last episode of Chef Abroad with Michael Smith!

  • Doreen Pendgracs
    Posted at 11:19h, 23 November Reply

    Thanks so much for that post (and Tweet), Charmian. I bought some saffron in Dubai last year and hadn’t used any until last week, when I thought I’d add some to my rice. It was indeed lovely (to look at and to taste.) But I didn’t know the 2 secrets you have shared: soaking the saffron to maximize flavour, and frying the rice first in a bit of oil before adding the water. I will try those techniques before making my next batch of saffron rice!

  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 12:46h, 23 November Reply

    I’ve never had proper saffron, so I am quite intrigued. I wonder if it would be good to flavour milk for a hot drink. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I am always looking for new hot drinks to try. Especially ones that aren’t loaded with sugar. So, a saffron latte?

  • K H
    Posted at 13:07h, 23 November Reply

    I was excited to learn more about saffron in your post. I hope to win something, but my only story of saffron is that I learned my saffron was no good and ended up throwing it out. Hopefully, my experience is as unique as the spice!

  • Amy Proulx
    Posted at 13:14h, 23 November Reply

    I will counter Monica’s comment (mind you I am biased) by saying that The BEST saffron comes from the Mashad region of Iran. Having been there, having seen the enormous cases of saffron, it makes me giddy to think of the marvelous dishes yet to be made.

    We always prepare saffron by taking a pinch of threads, grinding them throroughly in a mortar with a sprinkle of sugar to add some grit, then adding a small amount (1 spoon) of water to disperse it. Works wonderfully. Nothing against the Spaniards, but I highly recommend getting saffron at an Iranian grocery store, for freshness, quality and price.

    As for our favorite saffron recipe, too many to name, Lamb stew with saffron and braised quince. Jewelled rice with saffron, zereshk (red currants), pistachios and orange peels, served with saffron chicken of course. Saffron tea made with loose leaf earl grey, cardamom, a pinch of saffron and rosewater, served very sweet. I could go on. But hands down, the best saffron flavour experience is saffron ice cream. Unless you can get to Iran, you are better off making your own. Use any homemade vanilla ice cream mix (custard style – even better!) about 1 quart worth, add a generous tablespoon of rosewater, about 8-10 cardamom pods, and a large pinch of saffron (prepared as above). Let the ice cream mix stand overnight in the fridge before freezing. Once frozen, serve as is, with a drizzle of sour cherry syrup, or even better, put a large scoop of saffron ice cream in a glass of fresh carrot juice. Heaven in a glass! I’m not making this up! It’s absolutely delightful.

    • Cheryl Arkison
      Posted at 17:49h, 30 November Reply

      @Amy Proulx, That ice cream sounds amazing! If it wasn’t snowing I would be on my way home to make that right now.

      Amy Proulx: I will counter Monica’s comment (mind you I am biased) by saying that The BEST saffron comes from the Mashad region of Iran. Having been there, having seen the enormous cases of saffron, it makes me giddy to think of the marvelous dishes yet to be made. We always prepare saffron by taking a pinch of threads, grinding them throroughly in a mortar with a sprinkle of sugar to add some grit, then adding a small amount (1 spoon) of water to disperse it. Works wonderfully. Nothing against the Spaniards, but I highly recommend getting saffron at an Iranian grocery store, for freshness, quality and price.As for our favorite saffron recipe, too many to name, Lamb stew with saffron and braised quince. Jewelled rice with saffron, zereshk (red currants), pistachios and orange peels, served with saffron chicken of course. Saffron tea made with loose leaf earl grey, cardamom, a pinch of saffron and rosewater, served very sweet. I could go on. But hands down, the best saffron flavour experience is saffron ice cream. Unless you can get to Iran, you are better off making your own. Use any homemade vanilla ice cream mix (custard style – even better!) about 1 quart worth, add a generous tablespoon of rosewater, about 8-10 cardamom pods, and a large pinch of saffron (prepared as above). Let the ice cream mix stand overnight in the fridge before freezing. Once frozen, serve as is, with a drizzle of sour cherry syrup, or even better, put a large scoop of saffron ice cream in a glass of fresh carrot juice. Heaven in a glass! I’m not making this up! It’s absolutely delightful.

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 14:54h, 23 November Reply

    Oh how I love saffron! Your rice looks terrific, Charmian, as does your opening shot. So pretty!

    Most recently I used some saffron in an unusual chicken, yellow turnip and wild rice soup. It was outstanding! That said, I’m going to exempt myself from your give-away … I already own and adore “Modern Spice”!! :)

  • Cheryl
    Posted at 17:29h, 23 November Reply

    You know I already own this wonderful book so you should exclude me from the contest, but I do want to say that that top photo looks like my hair on a windy day. I just wish it were that color.

    I do love saffron, adore Monica, and think whoever wins this contest is one lucky reader.

  • Cheryl Wilson
    Posted at 19:49h, 23 November Reply

    I have never even heard of Saffron until one day while watching Martha Stewart I saw an episode where she was making an orange juice cooler. I was pregnant at the time so I got a huge hankering to try the recipe. I finally arrived at the store and found some saffron. I about fell over from the very expensive spice. But alas, what a pregnant woman wants, a pregnant woman gets. The recipe is called Saffron Orangeade.

    It calls for bring a water/sugar solution to a boil, then adding a few strands of Saffron. Let cool. Then combine Saffron syrup with the Orange juice in a pitcher.

    Let me tell you that it is the best juice cocktail you will ever drink in your life. It made a very happy pregnant lady out of me. Hmmm I really need to make some now. Thanks for all the great tips.

  • Van
    Posted at 01:03h, 24 November Reply

    I have just started to explore the spices in cooking, I’m quite new in this domain. Since now I have never dear to try saffron because it was expensive and I was afraid of waste it. But with your tips on how to chose and how to use it, it gives me more confidence to try it, especially that a friend of mine sent me a recipe and on which I’m drooling on (sent with beautiful and appetizing pictures).
    The recipe is a paella : he wets the rice with a chicken broth and on a paella pan he puts all the ingredients (vegetable and meat) with saffron. Then he covers it and puts in the oven for around 40 minutes.
    Accompany with sangria! It looks so delicious!
    But at that time, I didn’t know if I had to cut the strand to enhance the flavor or I have to heat it in a pan then mold it (like cumin seed for example)… so many interrogations that needed answers and explanations. I hope this book can bring a part of answer in my adventure in the world of spices!
    N.B.: Sorry if my English is not written perfectly, I tried my best.

  • Haley
    Posted at 01:25h, 24 November Reply

    I bought my first packet of saffron a few years ago, when I had spotted a recipe for paella that caught my fancy. However, I was just learning how to cook at the time, and none of the rag-tag collection of pots and pans I had were suitable for making a decent paella. I ended up moving apartments, and the packet of saffron got packed up and pushed to the back of my new cabinet.

    I unearthed it earlier this year, having long since lost the recipe for which it was originally intended, and it still smelled fresh after all that time! I found a unique Italian recipe that utilized it as an accent for a spicy tomato sauce with Italian sausage. The fennel from the sausage and the red pepper flakes in the sauce created a lovely flavor combination that was enhanced by the earthy, musky notes of the saffron. The saffron is a subtle but powerful force in the background of the dish, and I have made the dish so many times in the past few months that I recently found myself at the local gourmet shop in search of more saffron. It might not be good for my wallet, but it’s definitely good for my taste buds!

  • Natalie
    Posted at 02:55h, 24 November Reply

    I think Amy Proulx has this contest in the bag! LOL
    I know of a fantastic orange cake made with Saffron, but alas, I have no recipe :-(

    Happy Thanksgiving all :-)

    • Amy Proulx
      Posted at 12:44h, 25 November Reply

      @Natalie, All I can say is I’ve got a lot of saffron experience. We buy it 10 grams at a time, just for use at home.

      Some of the other recipes sound delicious – and would help get us out of the Persian food rut. I’ve always put cinnamon and orange blossom water with fresh oranges (juice, cake, sliced in a bowl…), but saffron sounds even better.

      Natalie: I think Amy Proulx has this contest in the bag! LOLI know of a fantastic orange cake made with Saffron, but alas, I have no recipe Happy Thanksgiving all

  • The Mechanicky Gal
    Posted at 12:38h, 24 November Reply

    I just planted Saffron Crocus’ and am anxiously awaiting a crop (keeps fingers crossed) and trying out this recipe!

  • Kelly
    Posted at 15:46h, 24 November Reply

    My friend just pointed me towards your site and I love it! My favorite way to use saffron is in rice pilaf (Alton Brown has a good recipe). It is also lovely with Israeli couscous. Jacque Pepin’s recipe for Middle Eastern Couscous is especially tasty. Freshness is key. I bought very cheap saffron when I was in Tunisia but it was dried out and tasteless. I should have saved the few dollars I spent on it and bought more camel mugs instead!

  • Sophie
    Posted at 06:56h, 27 November Reply

    Thanks for that great advice on saffron!!

    I will put these tips to good use!

  • maie
    Posted at 11:28h, 27 November Reply

    my mother would put saffron into her Estonian/Swedish style sweet bread/buns for Christmas – alas the recipe wasn’t found when she passed on

  • Rivka
    Posted at 12:43h, 29 November Reply

    Live this giveaway — and the great info on saffron!

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