ROZ BEL ZAFARAN (rice with saffron and Middle Eastern spices, for four)
“Saffron, an Arab word for yellow, consists of the stigmas of a purple crocus flower. … Most of the world’s saffron comes from Spain, and because of the arduous process of collection, it is the most expensive spice in the world. Its strong flavor means that it is always used in small quantities.” Penelope Casas, The Foods and Wines of Spain
2 cups long-grain, basmati white rice
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (Indian stores sell them out of the pod)
3 cinnamon sticks, about 3 inches long
½ teaspoon powdered saffron or saffron threads
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
- Measure rice into a fine-mesh strainer and place into a bowl of cold water to soak for 30 minutes. Remove sieve from water and drain rice for 20 minutes. (Soaking and drying the rice thoroughly are important to remove the starch from the kernels before cooking. Otherwise, your rice may be gummy.)
- Heat oil in a 3-quart, heavy saucepan with a close-fitting lid. Saute rice, stirring, for 2 minutes over medium heat, until the kernels are well coated with oil.
- Add the stock, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, salt, and pepper and stir well (Do not stir again until rice is finished). Bring to a boil and continue boiling 8 minutes, until surface of rice is dry and covered with steam holes.
- Reduce heat to lowest possible setting, cover pot tightly (use both a tea towel and lid) and cook 15 minutes.
- Turn off heat and let rice stand, still covered, 5 minutes more. Remove cover and fluff rice with a fork. Stir in butter.
NOTE: You could serve the rice sprinkled with a mixture of lightly toasted pine nuts and coarsely chopped almonds and pistachios, and/or add 3 tablespoons currants at the same time as the rice.
adapted from Claudia Roden, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
SERVE WITH: Persian spiced lamb shanks