Persian Rice Pilaf

This Persian rice pilaf is filled with sweet ingredients and earthy spices, giving it the ability to stand in as a main dish if you desire. Make sure to let the bottom layer of rice fry enough to develop a fabulously crispy texture.

Persian rice pilaf piled on a square blue plate, garnished with pomegranate seeds and sliced green onions.

Persian pilafs play with the contrast between sweet and savory flavors. Here the rice is first cooked, then fried to get a nice crust, referred to as tahdig, which is highly appreciated in Persian homes. It works very well with aromatic meat dishes but can also easily be expanded to a main course itself by adding cooked meat, fish, or poultry and more vegetables.–Andreas Viestad

Persian Rice Pilaf with Saffron

Persian rice pilaf piled on a square blue plate, garnished with pomegranate seeds and sliced green onions.
Persian rice pilaf with saffron has loads of sweet and savory flavors from apricots, cinnamon, turmeric, and yogurt. A tahdig, the treasured crispy crust beloved in Persian homes, develops during cooking.

Prep 40 mins
Cook 20 mins
Total 1 hr
6 to 8 servings
268 kcal
4.50 / 2 votes
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  • 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped apricots
  • One 1/2-inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 to 3 cardamom pods lightly bruised
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • A small pinch of saffron threads (approximately 1/3 gram)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped spring onions
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds


  • Soak the rice in water, either placing it in a small-holed colander under running water or placing it in a pot full of water, stirring well and changing the water two or three times. This removes the surface starch and prevents it from sticking and clumping.
  • In a wide nonstick pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion and apricots for 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl.
  • Add the rice, cinnamon, and cardamom to the oil remaining in the pot and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the boiling water and let the rice boil uncovered over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, or until almost cooked through.
  • Drain the rice, reserving the cooking water, and return the rice to the pot. Turn up the heat to high and add the butter, yogurt, saffron, turmeric, paprika (if desired), and the onion and apricot mixture. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring to prevent scorching.
  • Add the reserved water (and more, if needed), little by little, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked through.
  • Remove the rice from the heat and season with salt to taste. Stir in the spring onions and pomegranate seeds, and serve.
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 268kcal (13%)Carbohydrates: 42g (14%)Protein: 4g (8%)Fat: 9g (14%)Saturated Fat: 6g (38%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 11mg (4%)Sodium: 16mg (1%)Potassium: 153mg (4%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 3g (3%)Vitamin A: 315IU (6%)Vitamin C: 5mg (6%)Calcium: 39mg (4%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This dish appeals to the eyes as well as to the palate. It’s visually stunning with jewel-like pomegranate arils adding beauty as well as an exotic flavor. But that is not all! Just think cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and saffron. Those flavors conjure images of exotic locales and markets. The depth of flavor is remarkable. Sauteed onion and apricots balance the dish, and yogurt and butter add creaminess. One suggestion I would make is to steep the saffron threads in hot water before adding them to the dish, which is what I did. The recipe lists paprika as optional and we added that as well. Whew! Many flavors going on, but nothing whatsoever felt or tasted out of place. In fact, the next day when we heated up the leftovers, we also added toasted slivered almonds for even more crunch. While the nuts were unnecessary, we loved it this way. We served it with roast leg of lamb with Moroccan spices. A glorious meal to behold. I am itching to make this rice for my in-laws when they visit next!

Originally published December 06, 2009



  1. 4 stars
    I served it with a beef roast which I cooked in the slow cooker. It went very nicely with the pilaf but next time I’m going to try it with lamb. I like to make a cucumber/yogurt sauce and serve it with toasted pita triangles to go along with the lamb. Add the pilaf to this meal and doesn’t it sound yummy!

    1. Hi Anne, your dinner sounds absolutely delicious. Let us know how it goes with the lamb. You might find us all clamoring for a spot at your table.


  2. 5 stars
    Tried this dish tonight for dinner and my husband and I both agree that it tasted great. Will definitely be making this again!

  3. Like to find new recipes to try and this one sounds great. Not sure what spring onions are, am assuming they are what I call green onions… please let me know. Can’t wait to try this!

    1. Yes, green onions or scallions will do quite nicely, Anne! Technically spring onions are just that–slender, young onions harvested in spring. But most of the world simply substitutes green onions or scallions…

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