Saffron Rice Pilaff with Almonds and Minted Yoghurt

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I love cooking with yoghurt – and eating it as is, too, of course – so I was well chuffed to receive a cooler bag of Fairview’s new full-fat yoghurt last week. It’s deliciously creamy and rich, with almost double the protein content of standard yoghurts, since no stabilisers or thickeners are used. The thicker texture and full-bodied taste is achieved in the time-honoured way, of straining full fat milk from grass-fed, happy Jersey cows through muslin.

After my daughter and I had greedily spooned down a tub each, icily cold and topped with lavish spoonfuls of the fynbos honey Fairview had sweetly included in the pack, I immediately set about finding savoury recipes to use the yoghurt in. In the following posts, I’ll share some recipes and photos from my vegetarian cookbook, Luscious Vegetarian. Hope you enjoy!

This is a fantastic side dish when you’re entertaining.

Saffron rice pilaff with almonds and minted yoghurt
Saffron rice pilaff with almonds and minted yoghurt photo Sean Calitz copyright Sonia Cabano

Making a true Persian rice pilaff is considered an art; somewhat laborious, but well worth the extra effort. Usually served only at very special occasions, it may include dried fruit, nuts, herbs and exotic spices. Saffron provides the luscious golden hues.
Serves 4
500g basmati rice
20 threads saffron
4T (60ml) unsalted butter or ghee
1t (5ml) salt
1 cup (250ml) diced butternut, tossed in oil and lightly roasted until just tender
½ cup (125ml) sultanas (optional)
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
3T (45ml) olive oil
2T (30ml) each finely chopped mint, coriander, parsley and chives
Salt and pepper
To serve:
½ cup (125ml) almond flakes, lightly toasted
1 cup (250ml) plain full-fat yoghurt
12 mint leaves, torn
1. Rinse the rice in a sieve under running water until the water runs completely clear. Place in a bowl, cover completely with cold water and let stand for 2 hours.
2. Pour 2T (30ml) boiling water over the saffron threads in a small bowl and soak for 10 minutes, before crushing with back of a spoon to release colour and flavour.
3. Mix yoghurt with chopped fresh mint and set aside.
4. Roast the butternut cubes with a little olive oil on a baking tray at 180 C until just tender. Season lightly and set aside.
5. Meanwhile fill a large heavy-based pot ¾ full with salted water, put the lid on and bring to the boil. Drain the rice from its soaking water and pour into the pot of rapidly boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes exactly then strain through a sieve. Rinse rice very well under running warm water to remove starch.
6. Wipe inside of the pot dry, heat 3T (45ml) oil to almost smoking point and add half of the pre-cooked, rinsed rice.
7. Cover rice with the butternut and herbs, top with remaining rice and pour over the saffron water. Cover pot with a double-thick layer of foil as well as the lid.
8. Turn the heat to minimum, let cook gently for 35 minutes and remove pot from heat with removing the lid.
9. Set the pot-base in a sink filled with a little cold water and keep it like that for 2 minutes. This loosens the crust that has formed on the bottom of the pot. The crust is highly prized as the best part of the pilaff.
10. Now remove the lid and foil and use a fork to fluff up the rice, fork through the almonds and serve with minted yoghurt on the side.

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Celebrating life with food, wine, friends & happiness! Writer, cook and blogger. Author of four cookbooks. Passionately South African, proudly Capetonian.