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Saffron & Lemon Infused Brown Basmati Rice

Saffron & lemon infused basmati rice makes a wonderful accompaniment for curries, bean dishes, grilled or steamed vegetables like broccoli, and asparagus. The golden color is so beautiful to look at, that it just draws you in.

Shallow red-rimmed bowl with Saffron & Lemon Infused Basmati Rice garnished with 3 lemon wedges

Saffron & Lemon infused Rice is a perfect pairing with Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas. The bright lemon zest and floral notes from the saffron compliment the Moroccan spice combination so well.

The Rice for Saffron & Lemon Infused Brown Basmati Rice

Brown basmati is the perfect rice for this saffron lemon rice dish. I use brown basmati rice which is a long grain rice, because I like the way the grains separate. Brown basmati rice is usually light in color allowing the golden hue from the saffron to shine through.

Boil the Rice before Simmering

Boiling the rice for 10 minutes before simmering also helps to keep the grains separate. The lid of the pan needs to be tight fitting so steam doesn’t escape during the cooking. If the lid isn’t tight fitting, 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.

Rest Time After the Simmer is Critical

Rest time for any rice is key to perfect cooked rice. Once the rice has simmered on low heat for 35 minutes with the lid on, then turn of the heat and let rest for at least 10 minutes with the lid on. After resting no more than 20 minutes, fluff the rice with a fork starting with the top layer and working down through the pan. More than 20 minutes rest time causes the rice at the bottom of the pan to start clumping together and it becomes harder to separate the individual grains of rice.


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.

Good quality saffron can be hard to find in some areas, so you may need to purchase from an online vendor like 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 for both flavor and color. Threads that have yellow at one end, don’t carry the flavor or release as much color.

You can purchase saffron in quantities less than a gram to several grams. I buy 2 grams at a time because I use saffron 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.

Brighten Up the Saffron Rice Just Before Serving

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 additional 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.

Shallow red-rimmed bowl with Saffron & Lemon Infused Basmati Rice garnished with 3 lemon wedges

Saffron & Lemon Infused Basmati Rice Recipe

Perfumed with saffron and lemon zest, this alluring golden yellow rice goes beautifully with curries and warm-spiced dishes.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Course: Appetizers & Snacks, Dressing, Side
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Moroccan, Spanish
Diet: SOS Free, Vegan, WFPB
Servings: 6 cups

Tools Used in this Recipe

  • small prep bowl
  • Cutting Board
  • Chef Knife
  • 3 1/2 quart pan with tight fitting lid
  • wooden spatula
  • grater or lemon zester
  • foil or towel dampened with water


  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 tbls hot water
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion finely diced
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 2 cups brown basmati rice rinsed and drained
  • 31/2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads place in a small bowl with 3 tbls of hot water (optional just before serving)
  • Juice of one lemon (optional just before serving)


  • In a small bowl, put the saffron in with the 2 tbls of hot water and set aside.
  • If using Stainless Steel pan: Heat the saucepan to medium-low heat. Test the pan with a little water. The water should bead up and move quickly on the pan surface when the pan is hot enough for the onions.
    If using Non-stick or Enameled pan: Heat the pan to medium with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water. When the water starts to boil (about 3–5 minutes). Don’t let the water evaporate before adding the onions.
  • Put the onions in the pan and let cook a few minutes until they start to become translucent (3–5 minutes).
  • 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 into the pan while the onions are cooking. This way the essential oils that spray as you zest will flavor your rice dish instead of your cutting board. Another method is to peel the lemons, yellow part only, then cut into smaller pieces.
  • 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.
  • Stir in the drained rice and coat with the onion lemon and saffron.
  • Pour in the hot water and bring up to a boil.
  • 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. Or add an additional 1/2 cup of water.
  • After 10 minutes, turn the burner down to low and let simmer for another 35 minutes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Two hand-painted bowls of Moroccan Inspired Warm-spiced Chickpeas with a bowl of Saffron & Lemon Infused Rice behind
Heirloom Tomato & Basil Salad on an oval platter.
Silky smooth oil-free vegan hollandaise in a square white bowl served with blanched asparagus on white rectangular plates.
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