Saffron Rice Pilaf


Saffron rice, an Indian rice pilaf seasoned with saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest, pistachios, and almonds. Also called parsi pulao.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

When my friend Kerissa Barron first told me about this buttery rice pilaf, I couldn’t wait to try it. Then she told me it had saffron in it. Uh oh.

For some reason, saffron is a spice that sort of tastes like soap to me. Not a big fan. But, I’ll try just about anything once, and in this case, thank goodness. I couldn’t stop eating this saffron rice!

Saffron rice in small single serving bowl

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Browned in clarified butter, with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, cooked in a saffron infusion, and tossed with nuts and raisins, this rice is the bomb.

Kerissa came over the other day to make it with me. Here’s what she says about it:

Whether you are making it to accompany a homemade Indian feast or simply serving alongside a roast chicken from the supermarket, this rice, specked with nuts and raisins, imbued with the golden color of saffron, and fragranced with cardamom, cinnamon, clove and orange can truly hold its own.

How to Store Saffron

You’ll only need a half teaspoon of saffron threads for this recipe, so you’ll likely have some leftover. Luckily, saffron stores quite well!

Keep it in an airtight glass jar in a cupboard away from direct sunlight. It should keep just fine for at least a least a year. As long as the strands still smell fragrant when you open the jar, the saffron is good to use.

More Ways to Cook with Saffron

Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 5 to 6

To make clarified butter for this recipe, melt 4 tablespoons of sliced unsalted butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Let the butter foam up, which releases its moisture. When the foaming subsides a bit, you may see solids in the melted butter beginning to brown, remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel (to strain out the solids) into a bowl.

Sometimes depending on how the rice was packed, it will need to be rinsed before cooking, especially rice that you buy in large bulk bags. If there is powdery stuff around the rice, you'll need to rinse it. If this is the case with your rice, rinse it until the rinsing water runs clear, and spread the rice out to dry on a large baking sheet. Make sure it is completely dry before frying.


  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (see Recipe Note)
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 small (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • Zest from one orange (about 1 1/2 teaspoons, packed)
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons blanched slivered or sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins


1 Soak saffron in hot water: Heat a large kettle of water (a little more than a quart) to boiling. Place saffron in a small bowl, cover with 2 tablespoons of the hot water, set aside.

2 Fry the spices: Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter in a 2 quart, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat until hot. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns to the pan. Gently fry the spices for 2 minutes.

3 Brown the rice: Add rice, and fry for 3 more minutes, stirring after a minute or two. Some of the rice should brown at the bottom of the pan.

4 Add water and seasonings, and cook: Remove the pan from heat. Add four cups of the hot water you prepared in step one to the pan, taking care to add slowly as it may bubble up and splatter. Add two teaspoons of salt. Add the saffron threads and their soaking liquid. Add the orange zest.

Stir, bring quickly to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cover tightly and cook for 20 minutes.

4 Toast pistachios and almonds: While the rice is cooking, in a small frying pan, heat on medium high heat and add the pistachios and slivered almonds. Toast until lightly browned, about 3 or 4 minutes, remove from pan into a bowl.

5 Remove spices, add raisins: After 20 minutes, remove the lid from the rice, pick out the spices that have floated to the top of the rice - the cinnamon stick, any whole cardamom pods, black peppercorns or cloves.

Scatter golden raisins over the top of the rice. Replace the lid and cook for 5 more minutes.

6 Stir in the toasted almonds and pistachios and serve.

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How to make clarified butter - tips from David Lebovitz

Zafrani Kofta Pulao: Saffron and Caramelized Onion Pilaf with Meatballs from ecurry

Saffron rice with red bell pepper from Kalofagas

Red lentil dal - also by Kerissa

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

23 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Linda

    Can ground cardamom be substituted for the whole? Thanks! Linda

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Saurabh

    Excellent recipe – worthy of a bookmark!
    Typical of pulaos – very flavourful but easy on the palate for those not used to spices. For those not afraid of a little more flavour, I would definitely recommend adding 1.5x-2x times all the spices except perhaps black peppercorns. I went to town with the ghee and the results are as expected – the fullness of the morsel in the mouth.
    I now make this regularly every few months!

    Also, Elise, the “white powder” on uncooked rice grains is mostly the starch from the milling process. It could potentially be other substances depending on where the rice comes from but none of them are unsafe. The general rule is that you rinse it clear (like you said) if you are making any non-sticky rice dish e.g. a pulao and do not rinse if you are making a sticky rice dish e.g. risotto or actual sticky rice.


  3. ShakeAndBake

    Very good and less fussy than I was expecting. I thought the spice level overall was very subtle and I will probably increase by 50% next time.

  4. Keerthan

    I need to one observation here. The name of this is not “Saffron rice Pilaf”. It’s “Saffron rice Pulav”

  5. pam

    thanks for sharing. this so yumm
    (although i used a lot more nuts & raisins)

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