sweet & sour saffron rice bowls


Saffron is just one of those things that when I have it I think, OHHHH. Right. I get it now. I get why people freak out over this stuff and love it and pay a lot for it. Kind of like truffles. You're wondering, how great could it really be and then you have truffle potato wedges at brunch and you're like never mind, guys, I'm on board.

I've had saffron a handful of times before. Not many, and we've never cooked with it much in our own home (if you're looking for an affordable dose of it for a recipe or two, Trader Joe's has you covered). But I recently had a glorious bowl of risotto with saffron and roasted tomatoes and I was like, HOLD PLEASE. I knew it was good but, THIS GOOD?

It was a serious moment for everyone. I was asked to leave the restaurant. Just kidding about that last part, but imagining it going that way is kind of nice. (I would stand on the table in protest, obviously.)

But I left that lunch with a newfound appreciation for saffron. I should use it more! I should definitely get back into cheese (never left it, but a cheesy risotto will make you realign your cheese-related values)! And then I remembered how much it costs. Insert squatty brass instrument sound here: womp to the womp. But! Trader Joes, and, it turns out that a little bit goes a long way and can turn an otherwise simple meal into something pretty memorable.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 cup brown basmati or jasmine rice (will produce about 2 1/2 cups cooked)
2 cups mustard or other sturdy greens, stemmed and chopped
2 small sweet potatoes, sliced
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/8 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Lime wedges (optional)

What's great about saffron is that it's traditionally used in a lot of dishes that carry other bold flavors, so it's built to stand up to other strong spices and textures. My goal here was to have a little bit of everything: sweet, sour, crunchy, bitter, etc.

In a small bowl, cover your (super duper) thinly sliced onions with your vinegar and sugar and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Start by getting your rice going since that's bound to take the longest, about 30-40 minutes. Prepare according to the package instructions (using water or stock) and seasoning with salt and pepper. When the rice comes to a boil, toss in your saffron threads and allow to roll along for about 6-8 minutes before covering and reducing the heat. (I learned this trick from one of my favorite chefs, celebrity or otherwise, Jamie Oliver, and it absolutely results in perfectly cooked rice every time.

I didn't learn it from him personally, I mean. It was in one of his video clips on his YouTube channel Food Tube. You should subscribe. It's hilarious and educational, which is pretty much how I like most things to be. 

So you get your rice going and at the same time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay your sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Toss together with your one of your minced garlic cloves, fresh ginger, paprika, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast for about 35 minutes or until soft and golden, rotating the pan halfway through your cook time. At the same time, lay your chickpeas out in a single layer on a smaller sheet pan and toss together with olive oil, salt and cumin. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the chickpeas start to split: this means that once they cool slightly, they'll be nice and crisp.

When your potatoes, chickpeas and rice are about 10 minutes from done, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add your last garlic clove and sauté for about one minute. Add your mustard greens and cook until completely wilted down.

Serve on top of your fruity, flowery saffron basmati rice. Add your sweet potatoes and chickpeas on the side and top with your quick-pickled onion and serve with lime wedges for a little extra punch.

Want some other options?
  • Try this jasmine-kale rice with roasted futsu (next fall, of course). 
  • You could also stay classic with risotto.
  • You could also have rice for dessert: vegan coconut rice pudding (with strawberry jam).