Last weekend Peter, Zoe and I went to stay with a friend (also called Peter) who lives near Saffron Walden in Essex. It was wonderfully sunny and we swam outside for the first time this year (hard to believe now, after the gales we’ve had this week…) Huge thanks, Peter, for a truly lovely weekend – full of great fun and delicious food!
We wandered around Saffron Walden itself, too – a medieval market town that was originally called Chipping Walden. Initially the town’s primary trade was in wool but in the 16th century and 17th century saffron became widely grown in the area. This precious plant was used in medicines, as a condiment, a perfume, an aphrodisiac, a yellow dye, and a (luxury) ingredient. This industry gave its name to the town and Chipping Walden became known as Saffron Walden.
When I came home I wanted to make a recipe using saffron – and found this one for Jewelled Persian Rice.
This recipe comes from the recently-published New Vegetarian Kitchen that has been named one of the top 10 vegetarian cookbooks by The Independent. Written by Nicola Graimes, an award-winning cookery writer and ex-editor of Vegetarian Living, it’s full of truly inspirational recipes that prove that there’s a lot more to vegetarian cooking than pastas and bean burgers!
It’s always great to find a new way to cook rice as it’s such an important staple on a gluten-free diet. The wonderful flavours of the saffron strands, with the cinnamon and cumin seeds, give the rice a lovely exotic flavour and the onion, courgette, dried fruits and nuts add even more delicious flavours and textures. And this method is wonderful – you get light, fluffy rice that’s absolutely not stodgy or watery – and with a slightly crunchy crust. Lovely! I couldn’t find dried barberries locally so I used dried cranberries instead.
* gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, egg-free, seed-free
- 250g/9oz/1¼ cups basmati rice
- ½ tsp salt, plus extra for seasoning
- ½ tsp saffron strands
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 courgette, diced
- grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 60g/2¼oz/⅓ cup unsulphured dried apricots, chopped
- 55g/2oz/⅓ cup blanched almonds, chopped
- 35g/1¼oz butter
- 3 tbsp dried barberries
- freshly ground black pepper
- If time allows, soak the rice for 1 hour, then drain and rinse under cold running water. Put the rice and salt in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain again and set aside. Clean the pan.
- Put the saffron and 4 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl and set aside to infuse. Meanwhile, heat half of the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and fry the onion for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the courgette and cook for another 3 minutes, then stir in the orange zest, cumin seeds, cinnamon, dried apricots and almonds. Add the saffron and its soaking liquid, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
- Heat the butter and remaining oil in the cleaned saucepan over a medium-low heat. When melted, add half of the rice and top with half of the vegetable mixture, then layer again with the rest of the rice and then the vegetable mixture. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke five holes into the rice and pour 1 teaspoon of boiling water into each. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over a low heat for 10–15 minutes until the rice is tender and there is a light golden ‘crust’ on the bottom. Sprinkle with the barberries and serve.