Jan 172013

saffron rice with winter vegetables

Chunks of oven-roasted vegetables stirred into fragrant rice.

The storm of the decade passed over Israel, covering Jerusalem and the north with snow. But in the central region where I live, all we got was rain.  I’m not complaining. Although I lived in Michigan for years, I never re-adjusted to cold weather after living in tropical Rio de Janeiro.

The wind circles around outside and drives rain against my windows, but it’s cozy at home.  This is the time for pottering around the kitchen, keeping warm and trying out recipes. Right now I’m most interested in ones that call for doing new things to winter vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

Winter food isn’t all hearty soups and stews. In this recipe, culled from Al HaShulchan magazine (Hebrew), the familiar deep yellows and oranges of the vegetables harmonize with saffron long-grain rice.  The vegetable are first slow-roasted to bring out their sweetness – a foil to the slightly bitter pungency of saffron and sharp herbs.

The rice finishes cooking covered with a kitchen towel. My kids call this “shmatta rice.” It’s an old Sephardic method of steaming it so that every grain cooks through, yet remains separate. Yes, it’s a recipe that calls for a number of steps. But they’re all easy steps, and I’ve made a plan that economizes your time, so go ahead and try this pungent, warming, spicy rice. It makes a satisfying side dish. If you add half more vegetables again, it’s an excellent vegan/vegetarian main dish.

Saffron Rice with Winter Vegetables

Serves 4. Easily doubled or halved.

Printable version here.


For the vegetables:

1 cup peeled butternut squash, chopped into 2″ (3-4 cm.) cubes

1 cup scrubbed, not peeled sweet potato chopped into 2″ (3-4 cm.) cubes

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves or 3 large fresh leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, not peeled

For the Rice:

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 cup boiling water

1 cup Basmati or other long-grain rice

2 additional tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

Additional 1 teaspoon salt

1 – 3/4 additional cups hot water


Turn the oven to 350°F, 180°C.

Put the saffron into a small glass or bowl and add  1/4 cup boiling water. Stir, cover, and set aside.

Pour  1/4 cup olive oil into a medium bowl. Add  thyme, sage, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Stir.

Add the chopped vegetables and mix gently to cover them with the herbed oil. Remove the vegetables to a baking sheet, reserving any extra oil in the bowl.

Stir the garlic cloves into this extra oil and set the bowl aside.

Bake the squash and sweet potatoes for 15 minutes.

At 15 minutes baking time, turn the vegetables over and add the garlic cloves. Bake everything another 15 minutes.

While the vegetables finish baking, rinse and drain the rice.

While the rice drains, gently fry the chopped onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil until the onion wilts – 3-5 minutes.

Add the rice and salt, stirring gently until the rice glistens. Add the saffron water (don’t lose a single thread!) and the additional hot water. Stir and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until holes appear on the surface of the rice and the water has evaporated. Now add half the roasted vegetables, stirring them in gently – and quickly, so as not to lose the steam. Turn the heat off.

Cover the pot with a clean kitchen towel and clamp its cover over it. Let the rice and vegetables sit and steam away for 20-30 minutes in a warm place.

To serve, heat the vegetables that remained. Pour the rice into a serving dish and scatter the reheated vegetables over it. Decorate with sprigs of dried or fresh herbs or pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!

Safety note: If you leave the pot on the stove while other things are cooking, wrap the towel’s loose ends up around the knob of the cover and secure them with a rubber band. Don’t want it to catch fire!

rice steamed with towel

saffron rice with butternut squash


Related Posts with Thumbnails

  8 Responses to “Saffron Rice With Winter Vegetables”

  1. This is really nice, thank you for the inspiration.
    And: you have lived in interesting places….we have snow now in Munich, this is nice: it has been really dark for a couple of weeks, now we have light, that’s good for our souls…..

  2. Yes, there’s nothing like the sun on your face after a dark interval. That’s one of the things I like about the saffron rice – it’s sunny and warming and colorful enough to remind you that warm weather will eventually return. I hope you try it.

  3. Love this new (for me) way to make rice, Basmati is my favorite in any case! Thanks so much, and hope all is well, we did enjoy the snow, never having lived in tropical climates!

  4. Enjoy the rice, Sara Rivka! I was in Tsfat this past week and although the snow was gone, the cold remained. Still, Tsfat is beautiful on a sunny winter day.

  5. This sounds delicious and looks yummy. One question: When you add the garlic cloves to the pan, do you add the oil in the bowl also?

  6. Faye, you can either spoon the garlic into the vegetables, leaving any unused oil behind in the bowl, or tip the whole thing over the baking sheet and gently stir the garlic in. I did the latter.

  7. If I use Brown Basmati rice with this, will the only change be that I need to cook it longer? I’ve never heard of cooking rice without covering it unless it is Risotto, which requires constant stirring (and this doesn’t). Please let me know if you think this will work with Brown Basmati rice.
    It sounds delicious, and I look forward to making it tomorrow as part of our pre-Yom Kippur meal.

  8. Helen, this should be fine with brown rice. As you mentioned, it might take longer to cook. And yes, I would still cook the rice uncovered until holes appear all over it. Have an easy fast!

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>