Saffron Herb Pistachio Rice

Looking for an exotic and festive side dish to add to your holiday dinner party? This is simple, elegant, and oh so delicious. Read below for the full Saffron Herb Pistachio rice recipe!

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Prep Time: 5 min

Cook Time: 15 min

INGREDIENTS

2 cups rice
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads soaked in 3 tbsp water OR 3-4 tbsp Rumi saffron butter
1/2 cup chopped raisins soaked in lemon juice for half an hour
1 oz fresh dill
1/2 oz  fresh tarragon
1/2 cup toasted coarsely chopped pistachios

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INSTRUCTIONS

Melt the butter, coat the rice, then add the boiling water, salt and pepper
(and saffron) and steam with lid tightly on low heat for 12 to 15 minutes.

Cool and break apart rice grains. Chop all the herbs and add just before
serving with the raisins.

Mix well then sprinkle pistachios on top. Enjoy!

Saffron Herb Pistachio Rice

Saffron Vanilla Snickerdoodle

Introducing the Saffron Vanilla Snickerdoodle! These sweet treats are the perfect festive cookie for your holiday table. This recipe is inspired from the wonderful people at Blue Bottle Coffee. So if you aren’t located near a Blue Bottle Café and still want to enjoy these little delights, then follow this recipe to make it in the comfort of your own home.

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Prep Time: 20 min

Cook Time: 20 min

Ingredients

– 30 Rumi Spice Saffron threads (this will create 1/8 teaspoon of ground saffron)

– 1 tablespoon milk

– 1 vanilla bean or 3 tsp of vanilla extract

– 3 cups all purpose flour

– 2 teaspoons cream of tartar

– 1 teaspoon baking soda

– 1 cup butter (room temperature)

– ½ cup granulated sugar

– 1 cup packed light brown sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

– 2 eggs (room temperature)

Coating:

– 1/4 cup sugar

– 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Instructions

1.     Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle until they are in a powder form. You can also mince the saffron as another option as well. Essentially, the finer the saffron, the more flavor and color will come out into the cookies.

2.     Put the milk and saffron into a small saucepan and cook over very low heat. When it starts to bubble, you can stop (~185 degrees F). As another option, you can put the milk and saffron into a small microwaveable bowl and microwave just until the milk is hot (20-30 seconds). Cover and let it steep for about 10 minutes until the milk becomes yellow.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat saffron milk mixture, butter, brown sugar and white sugar together on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. Using a sharp knife, split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the butter mixture. If using vanilla extract, add 3 tsp into the butter mixture.

6. Add the reserved dry ingredients to the mixer bowl, and mix on low speed until just combined. Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up the dough.

7. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line four large baking sheets with parchment paper.

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8. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Roll chilled dough into 1″ balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon and sugar mixture until completely coated. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space (this is important – the cookies will expand while baking).

9. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until the surface of the cookies looks slightly wrinkled. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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NOTE: Cool cookie sheets are key to getting the perfectly round, domed shape of the cookies. If you only have two cookie sheets in your arsenal, let them cool off completely between batches. Otherwise, the butter in your dough will melt before the cookies have a chance to set up, resulting in less-than-spectacular results.

Saffron Vanilla Snickerdoodle

Dance Party at the Processing Facility

img_0576One by one, the women came up to me as Abdul Faisal wrote their carefully picked piles of saffron stigmas. He made small corrections on where they cut the stigmas – some were too long. He said to me, “The women are doing very well so soon. Already you can see the difference.” Indeed there was. The women were getting faster at it, so they were able to more skillfully pluck the quickly-fading flowers and thus produce longer and plumper threads. A heavy scent of saffron and flowers filled the room along with the low hum of ladies-talk.

The ladies all wore the Rumi Spice hijab, or head covering, as per custom. They usually do not allow pictures of their faces, although far-away photos are okay. Showing your hair is like showing cleavage. Afghan women value modesty above all else. My headscarf was always in disarray, and the ladies laughed about it constantly. They’d come over and fix it. In ten minutes it’d be back to chaos.

I sat myself next to a group of younger ladies, who stared at me as a stranger and looked away when I looked back. “Khob asti,” I said in my best Dari, which basically means, how are you? I grabbed some flowers and began picking the stigmas. It’s very dexterous work – thank god I took piano lessons for so many years.  The girl next to me, Zarlasht, showed me how to separate the stigmas better and faster. Gradually they began to smile, then fight over my help so that I would contribute to their piles. They asked me to play Beyoncé and Selena Gomez on my phone. They knew the words, or at least what it sounded like to them: “I love you like I love some baby.” Not the words, but definitely the sass!  Heads started to bob. Then I introduced some new dance moves. Then a few girls got up, giggles all around, and closed the door. Then the party started, and they showed me new dance moves.  We took each other’s hands and felt joy.

This moment of kinetic happiness came to a halt when the door flew open and Abdul Faisal looked very confused. The older ladies laughed and the young ladies hid behind me. So, we had to get back to work, and I had to leave the room because I was being too distracting. Oops. I banned myself for an hour, but every time I passed by the doorway, some of them would wink, smile and motion for me to sit next to them.

One of them, Sheikelah, stole my heart. This girl (about 16 years old) was a ball of sass and energy. She’d blow me kisses and say, “Excuse me! I love you!” very loudly. With a mischievous smile on her face, she’d say something very rapidly in Dari, full of gestures, and cause all the women in the room to snicker or shake their heads. I badly wanted to understand. She didn’t belong there sifting saffron. Sheikelah belonged on stage somewhere, with lights in her eyes charming a theater full of people. At one point, she grabbed my phone and took a burst-full of selfies, before getting scolded by her mother. Sheikelah said to me, through Abdul Faisal, Take me with you to America. I’ll work for you, and I’ll give you all of my money. She had her hand over her heart. This broke my heart quite a bit. Her look was very tender. I convinced myself that what I was doing Rumi Spice was enough. I’m not sure if it is sometimes.

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Saffron Is the New Opium… Sort Of

 “As a member of Afghanistan, I want to help my people to reduce growing narcotics – and saffron as you may know is an alternative crop.”

Shakoor Ehrarri works with Rumi Spice in Herat, Afghanistan where he oversees the export of Afghan saffron grown by about eighty farmers.

Rumi Spice had two priorities when it started partnering with Shakoor and other Afghan farmers; find the best saffron, and create a positive impact on the communities they work with.  Shakoor chose to work with Rumi because his highest priority is helping his people.  It was very clear throughout our conversation that he feels a deep-rooted responsibility to his family and community – he’s proud of Herat’s history and culture.

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Shakoor, third from the left, tells us why saffron is a good substitute for opium.

   

“Ten years ago whenever you talk about Ghoryan district, mostly you assume it is a place of narcotics, but now almost no one grows narcotics.  It has been replaced by saffron.  It’s a good opportunity for the farmers.”  

Why is saffron a better option for farmers? Shakoor explains that saffron is actually less work and the farmers can get more money from it.  “It is a winter crop and the farmers don’t need to worry about water.  There is maybe one crucial time you would need to water through the canals.”  He tells me that the saffron flower, crocus sativus, requires so little water that rainfall provides plenty of hydration throughout the season.  With poppies, on the other hand, farmers need to monitor the crop throughout the growing season and water more frequently.  Once they are ready for harvesting it takes 3 to 4 months of work to collect sap from each poppy and complete the harvest.  

“You also have to keep it away from the government and you have to be afraid of punishment.  With saffron the government will help you.”

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Some regions of Afghanistan still primarily cultivate poppies, like Helmand Province, pictured here.

So why don’t all Afghan farmers grow saffron instead of opium?  

“Mostly, the reason the people are growing narcotics is that they don’t have any alternative crops.” Shakoor explains that not all regions are so perfectly suited to grow saffron.  Additionally, when you already struggle to feed your family it’s risky to spend everything you have on new crops and for some farmers that start up cost is prohibitive. They would have to spend time and money on soil preparation, fertilizer, labor, saffron crocus corms [bulbs] etc.  He also tells me that sometimes the farmers don’t have much choice – that the global demand for opium essentially means that, “the work to grow narcotics is imposed on the farmers, otherwise they would grow an alternative crop.”  This is why Rumi Spice and Shakoor are tirelessly working to help farmers stay away from the opium supply chain in favor of a safer, hardier, more lucrative crop.

Saffron Is the New Opium… Sort Of

Shakoor’s Afghanistan

Shakoor Ehrarri has always had a passion for agriculture – for the way that plants and earth support an entire livelihood and fuel an economy.

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Photo by RUMI

“This year I have started cultivating an additional 2 hectares for soybeans and 2 hectares for saffron,” he tells me that some farmers now grow up to 100 hectares (about .4 square miles) of saffron in Herat.  He wants to help the people in his community thrive and to bring recognition to Afghanistan’s hard working, well-deserving farmers.

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Shakoor, far right, and two RUMI farmers pick the remaining saffron flowers. Photo by RUMI

  Continue reading “Shakoor’s Afghanistan”

Shakoor’s Afghanistan