Indian Style Saffron Rice

Indian Style Saffron Rice ~ this naturally gluten free basmati pilaf gets its golden color from saffron and turmeric, and lots of flavor and texture from pistachios, mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Golden raisins add a hint of sweetness.

Indian Style Saffron Rice on a platter

We can get plenty of good, authentic Indian food around here. There’s no real reason that I have to try to make my own, but I find it so satisfying to be able to recreate some of my favorite dishes at home. The flavors and techniques are so different from the food I grew up with that it gives me a real sense of accomplishment. They serve a rice similar to this one at the cafeteria style restaurant at the Indian market we go to. I think mine turned out even better than the original. You don’t have to pair it with Indian food if you don’t want to, it can hold its own as a side for meat, chicken or fish.

Saffron Rice 1

Basmati is a long grained rice from India. It means fragrant in Sanskrit. I like it because it’s not at all sticky, and the grains stay separated, even after a night in the fridge. Since the grains are fluffy and relatively dry they mix well with sauces like curries.

Basmati rice elongates to twice its length after cooking, and you can see how long the grains have gotten in the photos. India has been fighting for the rights to ‘patent’ the rice as coming exclusively from a specific geographic location, kind of like certain wines from France and Parmesan cheese from Italy. It’s worth seeking out the real thing because the flavor and aroma is so special.

I gathered these coriander seeds from my sister’s garden. Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. When you plant cilantro it ‘goes to seed’ pretty quickly, and if you leave it alone it will drop the seeds and spread easily, at least here in California. You can also just pinch the seeds off the dried plant and use them in cooking. The ones on the left (below) are my foraged seeds, the ones on the right are from my spice cabinet. In a taste test the garden seeds tasted fresher and more delicate than the store bought. They are amazing in this rice, when you bite down on one of the tiny seeds you get a burst of flavor.

I used pistachios and golden raisins, but the original rice had cashews, so you can decide for yourself which you like better.

This recipe gives a big payoff in return for a relatively simple process and easy to find ingredients. I highly recommend it.

Other other Indian inspired recipes on the blog ~

Indian Style Saffron Rice on a platter
3.78 from 18 votes

Indian Style Saffron Rice

Indian Style Saffron Rice is a naturally gluten free side dish with authentic Indian flavors and a spectacular color!
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Yield 6
Author Sue Moran


  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 heaping tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 heaping Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 heaping tsp turmeric
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 pinches saffron threads
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/3 cup pistachios raw
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins


  • In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, and add the mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Cook them, swirling in the oil, until they start to pop and become fragrant. Don’t let them burn, just toast.
  • Stir in the turmeric. Then add in the rice. Stir the rice until it is completely coated with all the spices, and let it toast for a minute, on a moderate heat.
  • Add in the water and the the saffron threads, crushing them as you scatter them in, salt and pepper. When the water boils, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
  • Take the rice off the heat, add in the nuts and raisins on top of the rice, but don’t stir. Keep covered and let sit another 5 minutes.
  • Fluff the rice, add more salt and pepper if necessary, and serve hot.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


Indian Style Saffron Rice pin

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  • Reply
    April 17, 2020 at 5:37 am

    5 stars
    I always rinse away the rice and let it soak for over an hour, cook in boiling water and white vinegar for just 5 mn, this is what separates the grains and makes them curly to make Indian or Iranian rice. I am so surprised to see your rice curly and not sticky. Any reason or special trick you didn’t mention? Thanks.

    • Reply
      April 17, 2020 at 7:40 am

      No, but I do use a good brand of imported Basmati, and it always cooks up fluffy like that.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    My family loves rice dishes and I’ve never tried this style. I am adding basmati rice to my list now. Thanks, as always, for the inspiration! Have a beautiful weekend!

    • Reply
      February 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Try to find an Indian Basmati rice if you can, Mary, I have found that they are so much more flavorful than American varieties.

  • Reply
    Karen Robbins
    August 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Making this tonight, looks great!

  • Reply
    August 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks for that great lesson in coriander seeds Sue. And the rice looks pretty terrific. Great idea adding nuts. Wonderful!

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