Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice

Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice

November 20, 2017
Bowl of Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice garnished with lemon wedges

Saffron and lemon infused basmati rice makes a wonderful accompaniment for curries, bean dishes, grilled or steamed vegetables like broccoli, and asparagus. I just love it with the Moroccan inspired warm-spiced chickpea dish. The color is so beautiful to look at, that it just draws you in. While saffron is expensive by weight, by use it is not. A little goes a long way for both color and flavor; too much it becomes too medicinal, not really a good thing. Saffron and lemon together are one of those magical combinations. 

The Rice for Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice

Any brown rice will be good. I use brown basmati rice because I like the way the grains separate and it is usually light in color allowing the golden hue from the saffron to shine through. Boiling the rice for 10 minutes before simmering also helps to keep the grains separate. Rest time for any rice is key to a perfect rice. Once the rice has simmered on low heat for 35 minutes, leave the lid on and let rest for at least 10 minutes. The lid of the pan needs to be tight fitting so steam doesn’t escape during the cooking. If it is not, you can put foil around the outside where the lid meets the pan. Another way is to wet a lint free towel with water and place between the pan and the lid folding it over such that is on top of the pan and away from the burner.


Good quality saffron can be hard to find in some areas, so I have added a link to a brand of saffron I use and that can be purchased on Amazon. I prefer the Persian saffron as it usually is all red threads, thereby giving a deeper color and flavor. In dishes like this saffron and lemon infused basmati rice it really makes a difference. Threads that have yellow at one end, don’t carry the flavor or release as much color. You can purchase the Zaraffe saffron 1 gram or 2 grams. I buy 2 grams at a time because I use it often, but, 1 gram goes a long way. When stored in a dark, dry, cool cabinet, saffron keeps its full color and taste for months. Spices, including saffron are best kept in a cabinet away the stove. Cabinets above the counter and/or near the stove can get warm and shorten the shelf life of your spices, particularly ground spices.

For an added zippiness after the rice is completely done and rested, add a little more saffron water and lemon juice just before service. The saffron threads in the cooked rice will mostly disintegrate having released all their flavor into the rice. This added saffron with its golden water gives a lovely visual cue as to the flavor and the lemon juice brightens it up and reduces the need for added salt. This is a naturally SOS free (salt free, oil-free and sugar free) rice dish.

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Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice

Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice
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  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 Tbls hot water
  • 1/2 cup of white or yellow onion finely diced
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 2 cups of brown basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 31/2 cups hot water
  • 1/8 tsp saffron threads and 3 tbls of hot water (optional, just before serving)
  • Juice of one lemon (optional, just before serving)

    Tools: small prep bowl; chef knife and board; 3 1/2 quart pan with tight fitting lid; wooden spatula for stirring the onions; grater or lemon zester; foil or towel dampened with water if needed
  1. In a small bowl, put the saffron in with the 2 tbls of hot water and set aside.
  2. Heat the pan to medium-high. Test the pan heat by putting a few onion pieces. The pan is ready if you hear a sizzle, the color changes quickly and the onions will jump about the pan.
  3. Put the onions in the pan and let cook a few minutes until they start to become translucent (3–5 minutes).
  4. Add the zest from the lemons and stir with the onions, and cook a little more (about 1–2 minutes). You can zest the lemons right in the pan while the oninons are cooking.
  5. Add the saffron water and stir. If not all comes out, when you get to step 7, add some of the hot water to bowl and pour into the rice.
  6. Stir in the drained rice and coat with the onion lemon and saffron.
  7. Pour in the hot water and bring up to a boil.
  8. Place the lid on and set a timer for 10 minutes. It should be on medium-high heat to boil. As noted above if the lid isn’t tight fitting, add foil around the outside or a wet towel between the pan and the lid folded on top of the pan away from the burner.
  9. After 10 minutes, turn the burner down to low and let simmer for another 35 minutes. (Cook time noted below includes the 10 minute rest)
  10. Once the 35 minute timer goes off, remove from burner and let rest with the lid in place for at least 10 minutes and up to 20 minutes.
  11. Once it has rested you can remove the lid and fluff the rice up gently with a fork. A fork as opposed to other utensils helps keep the rice grains separate without breaking the grains or clumping the grains together.
  12. In a small bowl add the optional saffron and hot water and let soak while rice is resting. Plate the rice on a single family style plate or individual plates and drizzle the saffron water and lemon juice over the rice.

Prep Time: 10 minutes - Cook Time: 45 minutes Yield: 8
Nutrition label for Saffron and Lemon Infused Basmati Rice


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