Perfect middle-eastern saffron basmati rice


It took me a long time to learn to cook rice properly, it usually ended up being just disastrously mushy. My impatient blitz-krieg approach was killing the rice, said husband and took over. He did pretty well, but I didn’t want to be dependent on him on the rice-cooking front, so I asked his sister-in-law to teach me how it’s done when we were visiting family in Dubai. 

I stood next to her in the kitchen and learned how important it is to wash and soak the rice, how the rice needs to feel in your fingers when it's ready to be drained, how you add oil and wrap the lid to cover it while it slowly steams without any rush to wonderful rice perfection. So now I can do it, maybe not always as perfectly as my sister-in-law, but usually when we have rice now, husband says “This is proper rice” instead of “Should we buy a rice cooker”. I am happy with that.

So here's how I do it: Wash the rice with cold water rubbing the rice in your hands changing the water or in a sieve under running water until the water runs clear. Leave the rice to soak in cold water with a sprinkling of salt – the longer the better I suppose, overnight if you can, but half an hour minimum. Add rice to a pan and cover with water – you need much more water than some recipes recommend. Don’t fall for the “1 measure of rice and 2 measures of water and you get perfect rice every time”- scam. With that method you get sad limp rice every time.

You need at least 5 cups of water for two cups of rice, but even more doesn’t hurt because you will drain the excess, and plenty of water will give the grains freedom and space to bounce around wildly and cook into beautiful individual parcels of rice happiness.

So. Add water, rice and salt in a pan and bring to boil. Then lower the heat and let simmer about 8 minutes until the rice is almost done, but still al dente and feels like there is a little bit of bite or resistance when you press between your fingers. Drain all the water and put rice back to the pan, drizzle some olive oil on top of the rice. If you want to use saffron, you pour the saffron water on top of the rice now (you will have soaked a pinch of saffron threads in hot water). Now wrap the lid of your pan in a clean tea towel and cover the pan closely – this is important because the cloth with absorb any excess steam so the rice won’t get wet and mushy.

Leave to steam on low heat. 10-15 minutes will do for lovely fluffy rice, but nothing bad will happen even if you leave it a bit longer.

Rice with a crispy bottom – Tahdig

If you like a Persian style crisp bottom to your rice the process differs a bit.

You start as above, but after you have drained the excess water, you rinse the rise with cold water. Pour some olive oil in the bottom of the pan. Ladle the rice in the middle of the pan forming a peak in the middle. Press a couple of heat vents into the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon, but not all the way to the bottom. Pour the saffron water on the rice. Cover with a lid wrapped in kitchen towel and let steam on low heat for 30 minutes. Again you can leave it a bit longer even, as long as it is on low heat, it won't burn, you'll just get an even crispier bottom.

Once you are ready to eat, tip the rice onto a plate and serve as wedges or break the cake into a mound of delicious rice and crispy bits.

There are several variations of this lovely dish, some using potato or flatbread in the bottom of the pan, or adding herbs and garlic in to the mix. 

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