While trying to use all of my fresh sweet corn that my friends in Iowa sent to me, I was inspired to incorporate it into biryani, a traditional Indian rice dish that is enhanced with the essence of several spices, layered with vegetables and cooked in a closed pot to bring the flavors together. I envisioned this recipe to have kernels of corn mixed in the vegetables and spices as they placed between layers of spiced rice, and then topped with small pieces of corn on the cob to complement the primary ingredient in this recipe, corn.

The main crops in Iowa are corn and soybeans. In keeping with the Iowa fresh from the farm theme, I decided to add a few soybeans to the biryani vegetables. They are full of protein and bring a firm texture to the dish as well as the vibrant green color! Perhaps I should call this recipe Iowa Biryani… This recipe is dedicated to my friends and partners in Manning, Iowa who inspired this recipe.

Sweet Corn Biryani

Sweet Corn Biryani ready to serve

The first step in preparing Sweet Corn Biryani is to cook the rice with a few whole spices so it becomes fragrant with the aroma. While the rice cooks, an array of fresh vegetables, including onion, carrots, cauliflower, corn, garlic and ginger are cooked until tender.

Instead of mixing the vegetables and rice together, they are layered in true Indian style in a large dish to form the biryani. Between the layers, warm milk that has been infused with the flavor and color of saffron is drizzled so it is evenly dispersed throughout the biryani.

After the assembly is complete, the lid if placed on the pot and the Sweet Corn Biryani is steamed for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the ingredients to cook fully.

Sweet Corn Biryani

Sweet Corn Biryani

To serve Sweet Corn Biryani, place a generous scoop of it on each plate, along with a piece of corn, and serve with plain yogurt on the side. It can also be served with Onion Raita.

During my visit to Dubai’s famous spice souk last year I discovered that saffron is not only sold in its natural state as threads but also as liquid saffron extract. I purchased a bottle because I found it interesting and thought it would be a different, easy way to add saffron flavor without going to the work of heating a bit of milk and soaking the threads. The vendor in the shop told me it was very popular with the locals and tourists alike.

 

Saffron extract is available in a bottle for quick and easy use.

Saffron extract is available in a bottle for quick and easy use.

 

Saffron extract is, as the name implies, a concentrated liquid containing saffron flavor or essence. The paper that came in my bottle of extract calls it “red gold”. Its purpose, in the kitchen, is to provide a standardize measure of saffron across recipes in contrast to a pinch which varies wildly. Since it is already in liquid form, it does not need to be soaked in a warm liquid for 10 to 20 minutes to release its flavor; the liquid is ready to be used. It also has a longer shelf life than dried saffron threads. The best reason to use saffron extract is that it is quick and easy to use – just pour a few drops into your dish during the step in which you would normally add the saffron.

 

When I started researching saffron extract, I could not find any information on it except that people use it as an appetite suppressant for weight loss or as a nutritional supplement. Hmm. That is not my intent. I looked all over the Internet for biryani recipes, chicken recipes, any recipe that used it. I couldn’t find a single one. A year later as I search again, I have only seen one or two recipes and a minimal amount of guidance as to how to use saffron extract. Perhaps they are available but only in Arabic.

 

Using the extract is really easy. At first I was a little nervous that I would pour way too much into my rice but, since the top has a tiny hole, just a mini-drop comes out at a time. My rule of thumb is about 10 of these drops to a cup of cooked rice. You are supposed to add it to liquid before stirring it into the rice but I added it directly to the rice after I had mixed it into the hot oil and spices. It mixed very evenly with my rice. Even if it hadn’t mixed evenly, any variation in color would enhance the look. A photo of my cumin rice with the extract is below.

 

Indian cumin rice dish made with saffron extract.

Indian cumin rice dish made with saffron extract.


 

I can only hope that my tiny 18ml bottle lasts until I can get to Dubai again. In the meantime, I plan on using
it in as many of my recipes as I can.

 

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Two years ago I compared saffron grown in the top three saffron producing countries in the world to try to answer the question Is Saffron from Kashmir the Most Exotic?.  With May’s recipe of the month, Chicken and Saffron Curry, I want to explore how saffron is used in Indian cooking.

 

Saffron, harvested from the flower of the saffron crocus, is very special since it is the most expensive spice per ounce on the planet. To give you perspective on how rare this is, each crocus plant may have 4 flowers and each flower has 3 stigmas. That means 12 tiny threads per plant! Fortunately a tiny bit of saffron goes a long way. One needs just a pinch to flavor a bowl of rice or a dessert.

 

Saffron in Indian cooking is primarily used for its delicate honey and grassy aroma that it brings to food. It is also used for its concentrated yellow-orange color that it brings to food and as a dye for fabric.

 

Saffron, a key ingredient in Indian cooking, brings an exquisite aroma to food.

Saffron, a key ingredient in Indian cooking, brings an exquisite aroma to food.


 

Most often saffron is most often found in sweets or desserts, like Payasam. The threads add a subtle flavor and give it the distinctive color. The delicate flavor is a perfect match to a sophisticated dessert. Since this dish is milk based, it is very easy to see the threads floating in the liquid. Other desserts include some Kesari, halwa and paalada pradhaman recipes.

 

Saffron is found in many biryani recipes whether made with lamb, chicken or seafood. I use it in my Dum Pukt Chicken Biryani and Langoustine Biryani recipes. The recipe for biryani is very complicated and involves alternating layers of seasoned rice, meat and caramelized onions. Since biryani is so complicated, it is usually made for important dinners for guests or special events. Saffron, as part of this dish, implies that the meal is special.

 

Beyond these recipes, it is found in many rice dishes as well as some seafood dishes. I use it in Pondicherry Pouillabaise and Prawn Balchao. It occasionally appears in other chicken recipes like my Chicken and Saffron Curry. My Creamy Carrot Soup also takes advantage of the subtle flavor of saffron.

 

I have a few tips to using saffron to its best advantage:

 

  • Stirring the saffron to a few tablespoons of warm milk (preferred) or water and letting it sit for about 20 minutes before adding it to the pot will bring out the maximum amount of flavor and color so you do not have to use as much as you would if you added it directly to the pot.
  • Crushing the saffron threads between your fingers just before adding them to the warm milk will bring out more flavor.
  • Don’t include saffron in recipes that are very heavily spiced or hot, as the flavor will be masked by the other flavors. Save your saffron for a dish that is worthy.
  • Pretend saffron is rationed. Some people think that more is better and add it to a recipe by the handful. When I was in Dubai, a merchant told me that this is how many Saudi women add saffron this way. In my mind, this is not necessary and wastes the saffron. It just makes the color more intense but does not enhance the flavor.
  • Store your saffron in an airtight container in a dark, cool place to keep it fresh. Use it promptly as the flavor deteriorates over time.
  • If you don’t have saffron, turmeric can be used to give a golden color to a recipe.

 

Try my Chicken and Saffron Curry recipe to discover the magic of chicken with saffron.

 

 

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Last week I wrote that saffron is one of the most important spices in Indian cuisine. To give credibility to my statement, I am sharing my recipe for Chicken and Saffron Curry. In this recipe, I marinate chicken pieces in a delightful spice and yogurt mixture before it is cooked then it is added to a rich, creamy curry that has been infused with saffron threads. It is easy to make and great with rice and a simple green vegetable. It is a heavenly dish that family will love; your guests will request the recipe. For those who do not enjoy hot, spicy
food, this is a recipe for you!

 

Chicken and Saffron Curry has a rich creamy curry sauce with a hint of saffron.

Chicken and Saffron Curry

 

I hope you enjoy my Chicken and Saffron Curry recipe!

 

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips!

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.