Zafrani… the word itself conjures up a world of exotica – zardosis, rich laces and Mughal emperors, tiger hunts and bejewelled turbans – like most words beginning with the letter “Z” do for me – well, except maybe for zebras and ziplocks and zits! Just think – zabaglione, Zanzibar, zany, ziggurats – Z is truly a zamindar of a letter!
Harvested from the crocus plant, the chemical that is responsible for the saffron’s pigment is called, of all things – CROCIN! Now who on earth would believe that that horribly bitter tasting fever medicine (and yes, I am NOT good with swallowing pills – how else would I know?!) would have something in common with the most delicate, flavoursome veritable Zikander of spices?! (ok, ok, I’m deliberately taking some liberties here with the spelling of Sikander!)
Tasting just as good in savouries as it does in desserts, the flavour is so delicate that even when you pick up a small pinch (chitikedu) to drop into your dish with your thumb and forefinger, the aroma that lingers in your fingers is enough to send you into orbit! Hmmm… I wonder… if there is any relation to the poppy… Wizard of Oz… opium… and all that?
Even as children, we were very aware that saffron was a very special spice used only on very special occasions, ceremoniously taken out of the little locked carved wooden box inside a locked steel almirah, with a solemnity befitting its royal status – only on rare occasions. I don’t think my mom guarded her jewellery so zealously (sigh, another z-word!)
On a trip to Kashmir with my school when I was about ten years old, I spent quite half my pocket money of a solid hundred bucks on a tiny dabba of saffron for my mom (obviously hoping she’d make somethin’ yummy of it!)
Well, she was thrilled and I did get something yummy out of it – sweet saffron rice – one of the yummiest desserts I’ve ever had!
SWEET SAFFRON RICE/KESARI BHATH
- Basmati rice – 1 cup (worth getting the best quality) – wash and soak for 30 minutes. Drain
- Milk – 1/2 cup
- Saffron – 1 pinch – about 8-10 strands (the dark Kashmiri variety or the Spanish Mancha variety preferable)
- Cinnamon – 1″
- Cardamom – 1
- Cloves – 2
- Water – 1.25 cups
- Sugar – 6 – 8 tsp (this is NOT an overly sweet dessert so eat without guilt!)
- Ghee – 3 tbsp
- Cashewnuts and raisins -1 tbsp each
- Kewra essence – 2 drops (optional)
- Salt – 1 pinch
- Cream – 3-4 tbsp – to serve (optional)
Soak the saffron in warm milk.
Heat the ghee in a pan and fry the cashewnuts and raisins till the nuts turn golden yellow (not brown) and the raisins puff up. Remove them from the ghee using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon to the ghee and fry for a minute.
Add the rice and fry for 4-5 minutes till golden yellow. Add the water and cook, covered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the saffron milk and sugar and cook till the milk is dried up and the rice is cooked. You may need to add two more tbsp of either water or milk. Add the kewra (if using), raisins and cashewnuts and mix well.
Serve warm with cream if you don’t mind the calories!
And you are now qualified to do the zumba in Zimbabwe’s ziggurat!