My adventure at the LongHouse Food Revival last weekend was very interesting. It was different than what I expected based on the topic title – The Saffron Diaspora. Just a bit of time was spent on saffron and the saffron martinis I was so excited about turned out to be made with a homemade moonshine of 140 proof!! So only a tiny sip was given out, as it should have been. It wasn’t a pretty color but there were two versions, flavored with peaches and cinnamon. I preferred the cinnamon, as the peach flavored one was too sweet.
What was inspiring and the best part of the entire weekend was the ability to meet lots of new foodies in all different areas of the profession and to be able to have intimate conversations with them.
I was fortunate to have some private conversations with chef and well-known Persian cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij, as she made her very famous Iranian Jeweled Rice. Isn’t this dish just so pretty? It’s very tasty too! I loved the explosions of candied orange rind with the crunch of almonds and pistachios and the tartness of the barberries (or you could use dried cranberries).
This is a labor-intensive dish and remember, in any Persian rice dish, the grains should be separate and long. It is traditionally made for Iranian wedding celebrations and the glistening pops of color truly look like jewels on your plate — orange peel, carrots and saffron for gold, barberries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds and almonds for pearls.
When we visited India several years ago, I brought home rice as it tastes so different and wonderful there. The same was true with Najmieh’s saffron rice. She said she has friends bring back bags for her. To make this without the direct import of rice, I suggest using Basmati white rice.
Najmieh gave me the scoop on saffron. She said you should grind the saffron to a powder (use a mortar and pestle) with half of a sugar cube, as the sugar removes the moisture from the saffron, and then store it in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator, or make saffron water and keep in the fridge. To make saffron water, mix two tablespoons of hot water or rose water or orange blossom water with 1/4 teaspoon of saffron powder and store in a covered jar in the fridge. Both versions make the saffron ready to use and Najmieh obviously uses a lot of it, so she wants it always handy. The Iranian Jeweled Rice recipe calls for the saffron orange blossom water.
For the recipe, please check out Najmeih’s cookbooks on Amazon. They are beautiful and inspired and clearly written with LOVE.