Sweet Saffron Pilaf with Nuts and Currants

The Mogul emperor Akbar, who ruled India from 1556 to 1605, wrote about this very old and famous rice dish in his memoirs. For Indians, however this seductive dish has been so widespread far so long that we mostly take it for granted. With its lovely, sweet saffron flavor, it can be served alongside savory dishes or on its own as a snack or dessert. Some Indian households make this with yellow food coloring to give the rice an all-over yellow coloring, but I just use saffron; I like the way the spice colors the rice unevenly, so that some grains are yellow while others remain white.–Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness


When you make this recipe, it better be basmati rice that you use. No other kind will do than the long-grained, slender, tender grains of aromatic rice. Trust us.

Sweet Saffron Pilaf with Nuts and Currants

Saffron Rice Pilaf with Nuts and Currants
Suvir Saran

Prep 25 mins
Cook 35 mins
Total 1 hr
4 to 6 servings
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  • 1 1/4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
  • 1/4 cup ghee or canola oil
  • One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 10 green cardamom pods pounded in a mortar and pestle to break open the shells
  • A 1-inch piece ginger peeled and grated
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar


  • Combine the rice and water in a medium bowl and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the water. Set the rice and water aside separately.
  • Meanwhile, toast the saffron in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring and pulling the skillet off the heat occasionally to keep the saffron from burning, until the saffron darkens to a maroon color and is fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer the threads of saffron to a mortar and crush to a coarse powder with a pestle (alternately, you can crush the saffron in a bowl with the back of a spoon). Stir in the milk or cream and set aside.
  • Combine the ghee or oil, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and ginger in a medium heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the currants and nuts and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the reserved water, turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer very gently for 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the rice and sprinkle it evenly with sugar and drizzle the saffron mixture over the top. Reduce the heat to very, very low heat, cover, and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Serve hot.
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Originally published May 08, 2004


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