Source: Raghavan Iyer | Category: Entrees, Sauté/Stir-Frying

Basmati Rice with Saffron and Whole Spices

This dish combines three of Kashmir's prized ingredients - basmati rice, cardamom pods, and saffron to create perfumed manna. Flavoring oils with whole spices is a hallmark of Indian cuisine, and I find the high temperature tolerance and clear taste of canola oil to be a great medium to do just that in this simple recipe.

Basmati Rice with Saffron and Whole Spices


  • 1 cup uncooked Indian or Pakistani white basmati rice 250 mL
  • 1/4 cup canola oil 60 mL
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds 5 mL
  • 5 green or white cardamom pods
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 2 (each 3 inches long) cinnamon sticks
  • 1 small red onion, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads 2 mL
  • 1 1/2 cups cold tap water 375 mL
  • 1 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt 5 mL


  • 1. Place the rice in medium-sized bowl. Fill bowl halfway with tap water to cover rice. Gently rub  slender grains through fingers without breaking them to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks) that will float to the surface. Drain water. Repeat 3 to 4 times until the water, after rinsing, is relatively clear; drain. Now fill bowl halfway with cold water and let sit at room temperature, to soften kernels, 20 to 30 minutes; drain.
  • 2. In medium saucepan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in cumin, cardamom, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Allow them to sizzle, swell up (especially the cardamom pods), and smell aromatic, 15 to 30 seconds. Immediately add onion and stir-fry until slices are light brown around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • 3. Stir in saffron. The heat from the ingredients in the pan allows the world's most expensive spice to unleash gently its full-perfumed potential. Add drained rice and coat grains with orange-tinted onion by tossing gently together. Pour in water and add salt. Stir rice once to incorporate ingredients. Allow water to boil over the same medium-high heat. Once water has evaporated from the surface and craters start to appear in orange red-hued yellow rice, only then stir once to bring  partially cooked layer from bottom of pan to surface. Place tight-fitting lid and lower heat to lowest possible setting. Let steam build up and continue to cook kernels 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let pan stand on burner undisturbed for additional 10 minutes.
  • 4. Remove lid and fluff rice with fork to let steam escape. 
  • Tips: Either remove the cardamom, bay leaves, and cinnamon before you serve the rice. The pods especially are very strong-tasting if bit into, and might leave an unpleasant bitterness that masks future mouthfuls from being anything but pleasant.


6 servings

serving size

1 serving

nutritional analysis

Per Serving

Total Fat9 g
Saturated Fat0.5 g
Cholesterol0 mg
Carbohydrates14 g
Fiber<1 g
Protein1 g
Sodium400 mg