Persian Basmati Rice with Raisins and Saffron

Persian Basmati Rice with Raisins and Saffron Recipe

Recently we went to the home of  family friends for dinner. They made us an absolutely amazing home cooked Persian meal.  If I had known about all the incredible dishes that I was going to get to sample, I would have brought my camera to post them here!

One dish in particular that really stood out was the rice. Every culture that eats rice has its own particular method and manner of preparation. In our home, we make both sticky Asian jasmine rice and Indian basmati rice to satisfy the different palates.

What's different about this Persian rice recipe is that it's not just a neutral medium for delivering the flavors of a main course. It is prepared in such a way that it is delicious on its own. Cooked basmati rice forms the base, but to this are added saffron, fried onions, butter, and flavored raisins. The final product is ethereal, yet rich.

I've had it at restaurants many times, but never with the care and quality that was put into this preparation. as if that weren't enough, we also had another Persian rice recipe made with dill, but that's another post...


Yields: 10 servings

4 cups basmati rice
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup fried onion (see tips), not too browned
1 cup carrots (optional, see tips), shredded into grain-like threads, steamed for about 3 minutes
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon rose water
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons Ghee (clarified butter), sliced, as needed
1 cup raisins (golden and dark)


In a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads. Add about 1/4 cup of water. Set aside.

In a small pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add the raisins. Stir well for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and drizzle with rose water.

Wash and rinse the rice thoroughly in several water baths (about three times). Place in a large bowl, cover with water. Add 1/2 of the juice of a lemon with its pulp. Soak for at least 1 hour or preferably 2 hours. Drain as much water as possible.

Fill about 4 quarts of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the rice is cooked all the way through evenly. Cook for about 7-8 minutes at a bubbly simmer. Add 1 teaspoon of salt half way through the cooking process (it will enhance the natural flavor of the rice and it will be more tender). Keep stirring the rice every now and then so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. It may take longer than the cooking time written on the instructions of the package. The grains of rice should still be a little hard, about 2/3 of the way cooked. Check often and do NOT wait until the grains are soft (see tips). Drain the liquid from the rice using a fine mesh colander. Do NOT rinse. Discard the liquid.

Transfer the rice to a smaller pot. Using the pestle (the stick) of a mortar and pestle, create 3 evenly-spaced holes (forming a triangle) in the pot of rice and drizzle about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water into the rice. Drizzle the saffron liquid into the rice. Add another 1/4 cup of water into the mortar to ensure all the saffron is used. Then sprinkle some more saffron liquid into the pot of rice. Place little mounts of ghee all over the pot. Sprinkle with fried onions and shredded carrots (if used). Seal the pot with an aluminum sheet and cover the pot. Place on the stove over high heat for about 3-4 minutes. Steam should escape from the pot. Turn off the heat and wait at least 10 minutes for the rice to set. Do not remove the lid.

Gently fluff the rice using long chopsticks (or a fork) without breaking the grains of rice. The rice is ready.

Serve with sumac.

Bon appétit!


Saffron is quite expensive; I usually get it at a more reasonable price at the Indian market. It gives the rice a beautiful yellow hue and a nice aroma.

Persian Rice Picture

Adding shredded carrots to the rice gives the illusion that you added a lot of saffron to the rice. Just julienne the carrots and cut them the same size of the grains of rice. The visual will look like saffron rice with small golden orange grains of rice.

For a healthier (and vegan) version, substitute the butter with olive oil.

You can find sumac in Indian stores. It adds a nice tart, spicy, complex flavor to the rice. The pinkish powder adds a pleasant, sour note. I think it's probably the Asian equivalent of soy sauce and butter with jasmine rice. Kids love this!

If you don't have any nut allergies, you can add some roasted cashew nuts or flaked almonds just before serving.

Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter. So if you don't have ghee, you can add some butter to the rice instead.

Frying onions is easy. Chop the onion. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a skillet. Fry the onion in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning until the color is evenly golden brown. Drain the oil on paper towels. I always make extra so that I can vacuum-seal and store in the freezer for future use. I place about one cup per bag. You can store them up to 3 months. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I keep them exactly the same way as I would extra pesto or the (papaya) meat tenderizer for poultry.

If the grains of rice are already turned too soft before starting the steaming process, do not throw it away (nothings goes to waste); make a rice congee (cháo gà in Vietnamese), a type of chicken rice porridge. You can also make a veggie version. I'll post the recipe in the winter.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on October 31, 2009.


I am DEFINITELY making this... I remember going to a Persian restaurant in the Bay Area when I lived there, I was addicted to their rice, but never tried to make it at home

Thanks so much for this post!

SallyBR Website Link
[ Posted at 5:29 AM on 11/1/09 | Reply ]
I saw this post just as I was getting set to post a Persian style rice recipe of my own and was intrigued by your slightly varied cooking method for the rice. I learned my method from a good Iranian friend, but I can't wait to try this method to witness the results.

Thanks for sharing!

Lydia Website Link
[ Posted at 5:50 AM on 11/1/09 | Reply ]
[-] PS - Guest-Lydia
I meant to add that I added a link to your recipe in my post so that visitors are aware of the variation!

Lydia Website Link
[ Posted at 5:51 AM on 11/1/09 | Reply ]
Persian rice is indeed incredible. What they can do with it makes me want to jump on the next plane and visit. Have you ever tried their rice with barberries? I can find them in the Eastern markets around here. Given your adventures in different spices, if you haven't tried them, try - I think you'll love them

OysterCulture Website Link
[ Posted at 8:56 AM on 11/1/09 | Reply ]
[-] I have - Jackie
Barberries are delicious. Lulu's favorite version of Persian rice is the one you described. That's the next one I'm going to post. You know what they say; great minds think alike!
[ Posted at 9:07 PM on 11/1/09 | Reply ]

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