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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- 1/4 tsp good quality saffron threads
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup minced yellow onion
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock (if using vegetable stock, choose a golden colored stock such as "no chicken" broth)
- 3/4 tsp salt (if using a low sodium stock, adjust salt to 1 tsp)
Take one half of the 1/4 tsp 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 sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring very frequently, until the onion is very soft and begins to caramelize.
Add rinsed rice to the pot and sauté for one minute longer, mixing the rice together with the cooked onion.
Pour the yellow saffron liquid evenly across the top of the rice.
Add chicken or vegetable stock and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil, stir. Bring back to a boil for 30 seconds.
Cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Let the rice cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, but keep pot covered, and continue to let the rice sit and steam in the covered pot for 10 minutes longer.
Fluff the rice with a fork before serving, stirring well to break up the rice and incorporate the cooked onion.