saffron rice pudding

saffron rice pudding

A saffron rice pudding with a rosewater syrup. Comfort food with a hint of saffron and cardamom. 

Saffron came to England thanks to the Phoenicians via the Cornish tin trade, as Patience Grey mentions in her book “Honey from a weed”. The joys of trade, pre-Brexit.  

Not an ingredient used extensively in Lebanon (land of the Phoenicians), saffron is now being grown in rural areas to support farming communities.  In 2005 the American University of Beirut carried out studies looking for crops that would benefit rural communities having to deal with the impact of climate change on agriculture. Saffron is ideally suited to the growing conditions in the Bekaa, and being highly labour intensive, matched the availability of agricultural workers there. As the crocus sativus grows and produces more corms, these can then be handed on to another rural community, giving them the means of earning an income. 

There is a cost to handpicking the flowers in the 48 hour harvest period, before the sun gets up, then removing the 3 stamen from the flower before being dried. All of this needs to be done on the same day. Which is why saffron costs what it does. 

This saffron rice pudding is adapted from a recipe by James Meecham, which featured in Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem.  Instead of the vanilla, we used Zejd’s saffron, just a pinch. We used our kitchen tweezers to remove some strands, and warmed them for 20 seconds in a small pan to make them easier to crush.  The saffron then releases its colour more uniformly when left for 10 minutes in a tablespoon of hot water.  Use the best rose water you can find to make the syrup.  You don’t need to drizzle much but it works beautifully with the saffron rice pudding.

serves 4

400ml full fat milk
ml double cream
8 cardamom pods, lightly crushed 
a pinch of saffron threads, crushed and left to infuse for 10 min in hot water
120g arborio rice
30g unsalted butter, diced
1 tbsp light honey
a few edible rose petals

1 tbsp mild flavoured honey
1/2 tsp rose water (depending on the quality)

1. Crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar, having heated it very gentle first so that it breaks up easily. Add a tablespoon of hot water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Put the milk, cream, cardamom pods and the saffron in a small heavy bottomed pan.  Just before it begins to boil, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 2 hours. 
2. Prepare the syrup by adding a teaspoon of water to the honey and rose water, stirring until the mixture dissolves. Set aside
3. Add the rice to the pan of infused milk, which should be a lovely gentle orange colour by now. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently, stirring regularly for 20 minutes. Stop before the rice is too soft. If necessary add a tablespoon of water, towards the end so that it’s not too thick.
4. Remove from the heat, take out the cardamom pods, and stir in the butter and honey.  Add a little water to get a runny consistency.

Serve with a scattering of rose petals and the rosewater syrup. Makes a very good cold dessert if there’s any left over the next day. 


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