Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe

Saffron, a unique spice that originated in Iran (formerly known as Persia) has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is prized for its distinctive flavor, aroma, and vibrant color. If you have ever bought it, you may have been shocked by the price and the fact that it is sold in the form of dried threads — this isn't your typical spice! The thread-like structures are found in the center of the saffron crocus flower and they are harvested by hand and then dried, which preserves their flavor, aroma, and color. This labor-intensive process is the reason this special spice has a hefty price tag. 

Wellness coach and recipe developer Miriam Hahn brings us this recipe for saffron rice pilaf and says, "I love the floral, honey-like flavor with a tinge of bitterness in this dish that's complemented by the sweet pomegranate seeds. It's a colorful side dish that is perfect for special occasions or when you want things just a little bit fancier.

Gather the ingredients for saffron rice pilaf

To make this recipe, we'll be using saffron of course, so pick up a jar of that. "It's sold 2 different ways, either in powdered form or the thin threads. In this recipe, we are using the threads and you will clearly be able to see them in the glass jar," Hahn shares. 

The other spices we need are cumin seeds and salt. In the produce aisle, grab an onion, either a pomegranate or a tub of pomegranate arils, and some flat-leaf parsley. The remaining items are butter, white basmati rice, broth, and sliced or slivered almonds. "When buying the rice, note that white and brown rice can't be used interchangeably in this recipe. The cooking time will be much longer with brown basmati," Hahn explains.

Steep the saffron and sauté the starting ingredients

Go ahead and preheat the oven to 350 F. Then to bring out the flavor of the saffron, put the threads in a small bowl and break them down with a mortal and pestle or even a wooden spoon. Add a few tablespoons of hot water to the bowl and set it aside. Then pull out a heavy frying pan like a cast iron skillet and heat the butter over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin seeds for about 2 minutes and then add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.

Prep the mixture for the oven

Now pour the broth into a separate pot and bring it to a boil. While you're waiting add the rice to the frying pan and stir to coat. Then, when the broth has reached a boil, add it to the frying pan along with the drained saffron and salt. Stir it well, then put the frying pan into the oven for 30 minutes. "You'll want to check it after about 20 minutes to make sure there is still some liquid in the pan and the rice is not drying out. (Different brands of rice cook a little differently.) Give it a good stir and put it back into the oven. If after 30 minutes the rice still tastes crunchy, put it back in and keep checking," Hahn explains.

Add the final ingredients and serve

When you pull the rice out of the oven, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then transfer it to a bowl and add the almonds, pomegranate arils, and parsley. The saffron rice pilaf is ready to serve. Pair the rice with any type of protein like these grilled chicken and vegetable kabobs or some freshly cooked salmon. Leftovers will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. Are you ready to level up your next fancy meal with this rice pilaf?

Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe
5 from 27 ratings
Add this flavorful dish to your repertoire if you're looking for the floral taste of saffron paired with the tangy sweetness of pomegranate seeds.
Prep Time
Cook Time
saffron rice in small bowl with pomegranate seeds
Total time: 1 hour, 8 minutes
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • ½ cup pomegranate arils
  • ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Put the saffron threads in a small bowl and grind with a mortal and pestle. Add a few tablespoons of hot water and set aside.
  3. Add the butter to a cast iron skillet or a frying pan that can go into the oven. Bring the pan medium high heat and when the butter has melted add the cumin seeds and toast for about 2 minutes. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the broth into a separate pot and bring it to a boil. When the onion is done, add the rice to the pan and stir to fully coat in the butter mixture. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the hot broth, saffron liquid, and salt.
  5. Add the cast iron pan to the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until the rice is done. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then add the almonds, pomegranate arils and parsley. The saffron rice is ready to serve.
Calories per Serving 352
Total Fat 16.1 g
Saturated Fat 6.1 g
Trans Fat 0.4 g
Cholesterol 22.9 mg
Total Carbohydrates 46.0 g
Dietary Fiber 3.6 g
Total Sugars 4.4 g
Sodium 614.2 mg
Protein 6.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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