Saffron rice or Yellow Rice is a deeply aromatic and flavorful side dish that pairs well with nearly any curry or lentil dish. The taste is slightly earthy and spiced, but not spicy or overly bold. This North Indian style Saffron rice is very simple to make but is a delight for the senses to enjoy alongside your favorite vegetarian dishes. It’s easy to prepare this recipe any day of the week with my foolproof step-by-step instructions and photos.
About This Yellow Rice
Lovely Saffron rice is a rustic side that I love to serve with traditional Indian curries and saucy dishes. It is very fragrant, but still compliments other foods without overpowering all their flavors.
Saffron, also known as Kesar in Hindi, is not only great to use in cooking for it’s pleasant aroma, but the spice also also has many health benefits. It is believed to be an anti-depressant, loaded with anti-oxidants and possibly has cancer-fighting and anti-aging properties. Additionally, saffron is known as an ingredient that’s good for digestion, blood circulation and healthy eyesight.
This yellow rice also happens to be gluten-free, and can be made vegan if you swap the ghee (clarified butter) with any cooking oil.
Healthy, pungent saffron is revered around the world for its rarity and unique flavor. And because it is difficult to grow and harvest, saffron is one of the most expensive spices and ingredients when compared cost-to-weight.
Thankfully, just a pinch of saffron is enough to make your entire dish light up with its fragrant sweet aroma and slew of health benefits.
Speaking of lighting up: another thing I love about this Saffron rice recipe is the beautiful yellow color. In the pictures below you’ll see rice with a slight yellow color because of the saffron. However, you can make your yellow rice an even more vibrantly yellow by adding a pinch of turmeric powder.
This yellow rice recipe is very easy to make. Soak the rice first. Then simply fry the whole spices in oil and combine the saffron and rice, add water, and cook until done. That’s it!
I typically serve it with Punjabi Rajma Masala, which is a tangy and spicy curry made with kidney beans. This beautiful rice dish can also be served with any Indian curry like veg kadai, lauki kofta, paneer butter masala. It will also go well with kadhi and any lentil dish like dal fry, dal tadka etc.
How to make Saffron Rice
Prepping and Soaking Rice
1. First, measure out all of your ingredients and have them ready to go.
2. Rinse 1.5 cups basmati rice 3 to 4 times in water, or until the water runs clear of the starch.
3. Place the rice in a large container and add enough water to cover. Soak the rice for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. After 20 to 30 minutes drain the water from the rice, and set the rice aside.
5. Meanwhile, crush 2 to 3 pinches of saffron strands into a fine or semi-fine powder. The pinch here is not the chef’s pinch but a pinch between your thumb and index finger. You can crush saffron with your fingers or in a mortar-pestle.
Sautéing Spices and Rice
6. Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a deep pan or pot. Keep heat to a low and add all of the following spices listed below:
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (shahi jeera)
- 2 to 3 green cardamoms
- 1 tej patta (Indian bay leaf)
- 1.5 inches cinnamon stick
- 2 to 3 cloves
- 1 thin strand of mace.
(Side note: if you are wondering why the tej patta is green in the photo – it is fresh leaf from the balcony garden.)
7. Fry the spices in the hot oil for some seconds or until fragrant. Let them crackle but take care to not let them burn.
8. Now add the soaked and drained rice.
9. On low to medium-low heat, stir for 1 to 2 minutes very well but gently, so that the ghee completely coats the rice grains.
10. Add the crushed saffron to the rice.
11. Add a pinch of turmeric powder now, if you plan to add it for extra color.
12. Stir and mix well but gently.
Cooking Yellow Rice
13. Add 3 cups of water or as required to the pan or pot. The water should cover the rice by an inch, so add a splash more or so of water if needed.
14. Sprinkle in salt to taste. The water should taste slightly salty.
15. Bring the water to a gentle simmer on low heat. Cover the pan tightly and let the rice cook until the grains separate and absorb all the water. You should see little air holes in the rice when it is done.
16. Lift the lid and check the saffron rice a couple of times while it cooks, but do not stir. If it looks like the water is simmering off too quickly, and more water 1 tablespoon at a time.
17. Be careful to not overcook the rice as it tastes best when served al dente or just cooked. Once the rice is just cooked, remove the pot from the heat and fluff the yellow rice with a fork.
18. Garnish the Saffron rice with coriander or mint leaves, and serve with any lentil dish or Indian curry recipes.
While making yellow rice, the white rice grains can be colored yellow with saffron or turmeric. Thus you see that yellow rice can be both made with saffron or ground turmeric. So both saffron rice and turmeric rice are two variants of yellow rice. Also make a note that there are many ways these dishes are made all over the world.
Yes of course – You can easily make the dish with any variety of non-sticky long-grained or medium-grained rice. Remember to add water as needed depending on the type of rice you are using.
Saffron rice is healthy and good during the colder seasons as saffron is a warming spice. But if your body cannot tolerate warming foods or ingredients that are hot in nature, then avoid it.
Yellow rice can be made with saffron or ground turmeric, together with a few spices, herbs, vegetable stock or water, fats like oil or butter and with an optional inclusion of vegetables.
Absolutely! If making in an Instant Pot, first sauté the whole spices and rice in ghee. Add the crushed saffron and turmeric (optional). Then add 2.25 cups water and pressure cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Give a quick pressure release after 5 minutes.
Saffron is an expensive spice. To harvest 1 pound of saffron threads it takes about 75,000 blossoms that are collected by hand. Since this process is time and labor intensive, it makes saffron one of the most expensive spice in the world.
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Saffron Rice | Yellow Rice
- 3 tablespoons Ghee or oil
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (shahi jeera)
- 2 to 3 green cardamoms
- 1 tej patta (indian bay leaf)
- 1.5 inches cinnamon
- 2 to 3 cloves
- 1 single strand of mace
- 1.5 cups basmati rice
- 2 to 3 generous pinches saffron (kesar), not a chef's pinch but a pinch of the thumb and index finger
- 1 pinch turmeric – optional
- 3 to 3.25 cups water or as required
- salt as required
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves or mint leaves for garnish – optional
Prep and Soaking rice
- Rinse the rice for 3 to 4 times in water or till the water runs clear of starch.
- Soak the rice for 20 to 30 mins in water. Drain the water and keep the rice aside.
- Gather all the ingredients, measure and set them aside.
- Crush the saffron strands with your fingers or in a mortar-pestle. Set aside.
Making saffron rice
- Heat oil or ghee in a deep pan or pot. Lower the heat. Add all the whole spices – caraway seeds, green cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, tej patta and mace strand.
- Fry for some seconds until the spices crackle taking care they do not burn.
- Then add the soaked rice. Mix and stir gently for 1 to 2 minutes so that the fat coats the rice grains.
- Add the crushed saffron strands to the rice.
- Add turmeric powder now if you plan to add it. Mix gently.
- Pour water and season with salt according to taste. Taste the water and it should be slightly salty.
- Cover the pan tightly and let the rice cook till the grains become separately cooked and absorb all the water.
- Do check the rice for a couple of times when it is cooking. If it looks like the water is simmering off too quickly, and more water 1 tablespoon at a time. Once done, fluff gently with a fork.
- Serve the saffron rice garnished with coriander or mint leaves with any lentil or vegetable curry of your choice.
- While I prefer to use basmati rice when cooking yellow rice, feel free to include any variety of non-sticky rice. Add water as needed depending on the kind of rice used.
- For a vegan option, use a neutral tasting oil or olive oil instead of ghee.
- If you do not have saffron, you can make this yellow rice easily with about ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric powder. But note that the rice won’t have the flavor and aroma of saffron.
- The saffron rice recipe is Indian inspired. So for cooking rice we always add water. But you can opt to add vegetable stock instead of water.
- You can also make this yellow rice in the Instant Pot. Follow the recipe instructions of sautéing the spices and rice in ghee using the sauté function of the Instant Pot. Add in the crushed saffron and turmeric and gently mix. Pour 2.25 cups water and pressure cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Give a quick pressure release after 5 minutes and gently fluff the rice.
- The recipe can be halved or doubled or tripled easily.
Nutrition Info (Approximate values)
This Saffron rice post from the blog archives first published in May 2013 has been republished and updated on 9 August 2021.