When creating a Rosh Hashanah menu, I’m always thinking about balance. We eat so many sweet foods to celebrate the Jewish New Year, which is a wonderful tradition– but it can also be overwhelming. Honey, apples, tzimmes, cake, kugel… it’s a lot of sweetness.
That’s why I love serving saffron rice as a Rosh Hoshanah side dish. The subtle, savory saffron flavor compliments all the sweet, rich flavors of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. It tastes buttery, even though it’s dairy free. It’s super easy to make for a large crowd, and takes less than 45 minutes from start to finish. It’s also very pretty and festive.
When my friend Farah taught me some of her family’s Persian Jewish recipes last year, she gave me a tip that helps to open up the flavor of the saffron spice. She suggested soaking the spice in hot water for a few minutes before adding it to the dish. I now do this when I make saffron rice, and it makes a big difference on flavor. The rice becomes rich with saffron flavor and aroma.
Here are three more important tips:
#1: Invest in good quality saffron. I say invest, because saffron can be very pricey. You only use a small amount, but you also get a very small amount in most bottles. If a bottle of saffron threads costs less than $10, it’s probably not worth buying. I don’t recommend the bag full of saffron that costs $5… it’s not the stuff you want, and it won’t give you the flavor you need.
#2: Don’t omit the salt… the combination of salt, saffron, and caramelized onions gives this rice a rice, buttery flavor. You won’t believe there’s no dairy when you taste it!
#3: Buy white basmati rice; don’t substitute long grain rice or brown rice. The flavor and texture won’t be the same.
If you’d like to make this dish pareve or vegan, you can use water in the place of chicken stock. I prefer the chicken stock because it adds a lot of flavor to the rice. If you do use water, add an extra pinch of salt to make up for the salt in the chicken stock.
We eat saffron rice all year round, particularly during the winter months, because it’s both healthy and cozy– it’s the kind of comfort food that is good for you. It’s also gluten free if you use a certified GF chicken stock. Enjoy!!
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- 2 pinches good quality saffron threads (spice)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 3 3/4 cups chicken stock, or substitute water + extra pinch of salt
- 1 tsp salt
- Take one pinch of saffron threads and put them in a spice mortar. Grind the spice with a pestle to a powdery consistency.
- Add a second pinch of saffron threads to the mortar. Do not crush these threads.
- Pour 1/4 cup of hot water into the mortar. Let the saffron soak for 5 minutes. This will open up the flavor of the spice.
- Meanwhile, sort your basmati rice and rinse in a colander. Drain.
- In a large heavy pot, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium. Add the minced onion to the pot and saute for about 10 minutes, till the onion begins to caramelize.
- Add rice to the pot and saute for one minute longer, mixing the rice together with the cooked onion.
- Pour the yellow saffron liquid evenly across the top of the rice, making sure to scrape any saffron that clings to the mortar into the pot.
- Add broth (or water and extra pinch of salt) to the pot. Bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Let the rice cook for 20 minutes, or until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender.
- Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.