Saffron Rice

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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Saffron Rice


  • 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
Total Time: 45 Minutes
Servings: 8 side portions
Kosher Key: Meat or Pareve (use salted water instead of stock for pareve)
  • 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 and 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.

Comments (85)Post a Comment

    1. Marcy, just cut every ingredient in half, it will work great. For the saffron, use just one pinch, but only crush half of it. Let me know how you like it! :)

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Great idea…I love adding Sephardic aspects to holiday meals. This rice looks wonderful!
    My family is stuck in the Ashkenazi regulars…but some holiday things they only get once a year(like Kreplach) so I understand how they feel.

    As someone who has always striven to keep the recipes of my family past alive… I just love what you are doing on your blog, it is a joy to visit you!….The history of Jewish food and keeping it alive in the traditions of our family mean so much to me.

    L’Shana Tova to you and yours!

  2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Tori, this is absolutely amazing. I love how vibrant it is. I have to try this one. Now I need to find some good quality saffron in the culinary black hole I live in. Wish me luck.

    1. I’m going to make this hopefully soon. Bought Saffron threads at Costco not cheap. I’ve never used Saffron before nor have I use Basmati rice. I’ve only use Min. rice and Long grain rice. So hoping to get this right. The recipe sounds great and the pictures really help.

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have yet to cook with saffron, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. This rice looks so good and I love the color – it would make a great side dish to the holiday meal. :)

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Saffron is one of those amazing spices that I just can’t get enough of – and the combination of saffron and rice is just perfection. I want to be at your dinner table right now with all the yumminess going on!

  5. the only saffron available at my market was made by BADIA and about $6 for a little baggy. It says “spanish saffron” on it. Is that not going to be good?? Oh no! I guess I could go to whole foods if it is going to suin it :(. I am making the brisket and rice for Wed night….have my pomegr molasses reducing right now! It is taking wayyy longer than 80m though…more like close to 3 hr! Almost done and can’t wait to marinate my brisket!! LOVE your site!!

  6. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thanks for the recipe, Tori. It was a hit at my Rosh Hashanah dinner last night! I was able to make it the day before and reheat it in the oven with a little chicken broth added for moisture. It was delicious!!

  7. I had the fortune and got real iranian saffron and used just a really tiny amount of it. It`s astonishing how much color and flavor is in those tiny saffron things (what is the correct english term for it?).
    Made turkey “schnitzelim” with Saffron rice.

  8. This is very lovely. If you are making a vegetarian/dairy meal, you can add some butter along with the oil (and ideally, some vegetable stock) instead of the chicken stock.

    Joan Nathan (someone I very much admire in terms of food and food/social/family history, alongside Claudia Roden, and I’m not even Jewish) was so kind as to reply to me about her book on Jewish cuisines in France, from the ancient Jewish communities along the Rhine and the Mediterranean shores, later Ashkenazi and then Sephardic immigrants, and classic and homestyle French cuisine adapted to kosher laws.

    Real Spanish saffron, like real Iranian or Italian saffron, will rarely come in a bag. However, some shops (mostly “ethnic”) are much cheaper than others. Saffron is very expensive by weight, but a tiny bit goes a long way.

  9. Thank you so much Tori, that was the best rice I have cooked ever (and the first time I used saffron). I am glad I have found your blog. Shana Tova u Hatima Tova!

  10. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    First time here……Wow what a colour..Safforn always gives you a wonderful aroma and colour to any dishes..This looks really good…Following your blog straight away..If you have time Check out my blog too..


  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    LOVE your story, and the rice dish sounds wonderful. Can you tell me how much tumeric I would need to use in place of the saffron? I’m financially strapped right now and cannot afford the spice. I understand the flavor will not be same, but would still like to try.

    1. Use 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in place of the saffron. Once you have sauteed the onions, lower the heat, add the turmeric and infuse it into the onion and oil mixture for at least 30-45 seconds. Then carry on with the recipe. Increase your chicken stock to 4 even cups.

  12. Hi Tori, I will be making this for our Pesach seder. I plan on adding currants to it. Do you have a suggestion on how much to add to this recipe? 1/2 cup, 1 cup, etc?

  13. Looks like a good recipe to try : ) Just wanted to share that i found my little bottle of saffron threads at costco for $15. Can’t say that i’ve made anything good with them yet(my fault), so i can’t say if i recommend or not.

  14. My friend brought a container of saffron back from Iran and gave to my wife and me. We have never even tasted saffron. He says to crush the saffron (about 10 seeds) and soak it in hot water for two hours. Can’t wait to try this rice with shrimp. Thanks.

  15. When you say a pinch, do you mean a couple of threads of saffron? A pinch would use up half the bottle. Love the pictures you show with each step. Wish all cookbooks did it that well. Thank you.

  16. Thanks for this elegant recipe. I see it coming to fruition as I write. I can see the caramelized onions on top of the beautifully yellowed rice! Another 5-10 minutes methinks.

  17. I love this rice!i made it about a month ago and I’m making it right now! Very easy and flavorful. Thank you!

  18. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I made this for Rosh Hashanah dinner, in lieu of the ever present potato. (I love potatoes, but wanted something a little different.) I’ve never used saffron before, so this was a fun experiment. I have to admit to burning the rice a bit on the bottom (I usually do, oh well), but the rest was delicious- warm, savory, with a full, rich flavor. I will definitely love to have this again, especially with the (hopefully) colder months ahead. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome Gretchen. I have to admit this is my favorite go-to side dish because it is so easy, so tasty, and it goes with so many different things!

  19. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori this rice looks delicious. I like that you’ve put in the effort to include a picture at each step. Now, to go find Saffron (I live in South Africa)

  20. I just made this recipe and I used saffron that I purchased at trader Joe’s. But it didn’t come out with the flavor I expected. It had an old, plasticy taste.
    I’m not sure why. Can someone answer? Thanks.

    1. Hi Yvette– how much did the saffron you bought cost? If it was not very expensive, it was not true saffron but likely Mexican saffron which is actually made from safflower. The flavor is very different from saffron and I do not find it at all satisfactory. Good saffron costs over $10 for even the smallest package.

  21. Well, the saffron I bought cost $5.99. So I guess I have my answer.
    The label says Spanish saffron. Is that the same as Mexican saffron?
    I guess I’ll have to a special market to find what I need. Thanks for your help.
    Is there anything else I should know?

    1. Yvette, Spanish saffron is the same as Mexican saffron– so yes, there’s your answer. :) Real saffron is pricey, but a little goes a long way. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find true saffron at a larger grocery chain (like Ralphs) or a gourmet or specialty grocer (Whole Foods, Middle Eastern markets). The main thing that distinguishes the real saffron from the other is price. Expect to pay $10 or more for a very small amount of true saffron.

  22. Finally a simple recipe simply explained. I can’t wait to try it. One question; i don’t have a spice mortar, what else could I use?
    If to using chicken or vegetae stock will it alter the flavor, meaning take way from the flavor of the saffron?

    1. Hi Lisa, you can make the recipe without crushing the strands, just be sure to let them soak in warm water for 15 minutes instead of 5. Crushing the strands allows them to release flavor more quickly; it will also intensify the yellow color of the rice. However, it isn’t necessary if the strands are given ample time to soak in the water. Enjoy!

  23. Hi, I plan to make this as a side dish for Cajun chicken. The last ingredient is 1 tsp of salt but I don’t see where that gets added in. I’m assuming it goes in with the chicken stock. Can you confirm?

  24. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This is an amazing and easy recipe. I received some wonderful saffron from an Iranian friend, and waited to use it properly with this site. THANK YOU! LOVE this website.

  25. I am making this recipe as a part of a food and hospitality practical, and I was just wondering what you could use to garnish this with? any nuts that you recommend etc?

  26. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I tried making it too, but yours looks much more delicious. Yet, mine is right here in front of me and I’m eating it now. Both are good.

    Thanks for sharing, next time I’ll actually follow your recipe and see how it turns out.

    I have a question though: How much is “2 pinches” in milligrams? I have a small precision milligram scale and I could use it. Primarily because I didn’t get the same yellow as you did even though I did 2 pinches.

    1. John, I just ordered a more sensitive scale for some spice blends I’m developing. When it gets here I’ll measure and let you know!

    1. Hi John, the saffron is so light that even my sensitive scale has trouble reading it, but I measured out quite a bit of it so I could get a reading, then divided it to get the weight of roughly what I use for this recipe. It worked out to be about .02 ounces (I think). Hope that helps!

  27. Using some Persian saffron obtained by family members in Iran, and maybe some Afghan saffron if I don’t have enough for the large feast I am preparing for Easter. My extended family and neighbors who don’t have family will be coming for an Easter feast.

    I will be using some of your recipe, though I am using 23 cup auto rice cookers to finish the Indian Basmati rice after sauteeing it. I will be adding sauteed aromatics as well as roasted sliced almonds. This will be a great side dish for the lamb we will be slow smoking, using chicken broth and various seasonings and fresh herbs.

    Topping that and a few other side dishes will be fresh homemade carrot cake with natural lemon icing, and fresh homemade lemon custard ice cream.

    Some of those coming said they have designated drivers. I asked why since there will not be any alcohol. They said they plan to eat so much that they don’t trust their driving! ha. Bon Apetit!

    1. Enjoy! Please remember to use the good quality saffron. Persian/Afghan saffron should work great. It is pricey (especially for so much rice!) but the lower quality cheaper saffron has no flavor. Good luck!

    2. Tori: Thank you.

      The best saffron in the world comes from Iran and Afghanistan.
      And we are blessed to have the best of the best. Family and friends have kindly donated to us about 3 total ounces.

      When we opened the seal around the saffron the whole room smelled it! It worked very well in the pilaf, on the roasted potatoes,

      The Family Reunion/Resurrection Day Feast was a resounding success. All family and friends said they so enjoyed it, no one wanted to leave. They all want to have another one next year, and want to add another event around Thanksgiving of this year. The amount of new people they are inviting means either I will get another smoker or just fabricate me large one on wheels.

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