Ancient and Exotic Saffron: Tasting Jerusalem November 2014

“… the minute you taste the saffron in a dish, there is too much.”

(Michel Richard, Citronelle, Wash DC quoted in “The Flavor Bible”)


Well that’s good to know since this colorful, aromatic spice can cost as much as $3,000 per pound! Yet it is on Louisa Shafia’s list of essential Persian ingredients in her book “The New Persian Kitchen“. Saffron has such a distinct, delicate, flowery taste, Shafia says. “Light, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice is a part of almost every Persian meal, and rice is almost always seasoned with saffron.”

Ottolenghi and Tamimi use it in seven dishes in “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” and Ottolenghi calls it out in four dishes in “Plenty More”. So for November 2014, this exotic spice is the topic – make it a splurge for your elegant holiday meals.

In case you are not already familiar with this pricey, orange-red spice, it is actually the red stigma you see when you look at a crocus flower. Each strand has to be hand-picked and it can take as much as 70,000 flowers to make just 10 pounds of dried saffron.

Alan Davidson’s “The Oxford Companion to Food” describes saffron as having a “spicy, pungent, bitter taste and tenacious odour.”

In just the right small amount, it imparts a wonderful flavor and stunning color to a dish.

Two Types of Saffron

When you shop for saffron, you will usually find two types – either of Persian origin or from Spain. According to “The Oxford Companion to Food”: It was first cultivated in Western Asia, particularly Persia. Cultivation dates back to the 3rd century. In the 13th century, cultivation spread to Italy, France and Germany.


Expert Advice on using Saffron

From Paula Wolfert’s “The Food of Morocco“: For the best flavor, saffron should be brittle before being pulverized. To do this put in a warm pan on a very low heat. When brittle, they’re ready to be pulverized with a mortar and pestle. Wolfert recommends turning saffron into saffron water—saying it’s economical and brings out more of the aroma and flavor than adding the threads to a dish. To make it, dry ½ tsp crumbled strands in warm skillet. Crush, then soak in 1 cup hot water. Store up to a week in the fridge. (You can also freeze it into ice cubes)

Similar to Wolfert, Shafia says: “Grind up the saffron in a mortar and pestle and let it steep in hot water, milk, butter, or stock before using.”

Further confirming Wolfert and Shafia, an article from the Huffington Post by Julie R. Thomson says that saffron begins to release its flavor in hot liquid in 20 minutes but continues to do so for 24 hours and that’s why many dishes with saffron in them taste even better the next day.

Saffron Recipes from “Jerusalem”:

Fava Bean Kuku, pg 39 (photo courtesy of Yumivore)


Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio and mixed herbs, pg 105


Seafood and fennel soup, pg 136

Pistachio soup, pg 138


Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon, pg 180 – this is an approved recipe to print from Ten Speed Press so see below for the recipe in case you don’t have the book!


Saffron chicken and herb salad, pg 188

Poached pears in white wine and cardamom, pg 267 (photo by Orly – @yumivore on Twitter/Instagram)


Saffron Recipes from “Plenty More”:

Saffron, Date, and Almond Rice, page 49

Zucchini and Fennel with Saffron Crumbs, page 140

Crispy Saffron Couscous Cakes, page 205

Winter Saffron Gratin, page 271

Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke & lemon
Serves: Serves 4
The combination of saffron and whole lemon slices not only makes for a beautiful-looking dish but also goes exceptionally well with the nutty earthiness of the artichokes. This is easy to prepare. You just need to plan ahead and leave it to marinate properly. Reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
  • 1 lb / 450 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges ⅔ inch / 1.5 cm thick
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, or 1 medium whole chicken, quartered
  • 12 banana or other large shallots, halved lengthwise
  • 12 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 medium lemon, halved lengthwise and then very thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 3½ tbsp / 50 ml olive oil
  • ⅔ cup / 150 ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • ¼ cup / 10 g fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup / 40 g tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and add half the lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.
  2. Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients, excluding the remaining lemon juice and half of the tarragon, in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 475°F / 240°C. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in the center of a roasting pan and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. At this point, the chicken should be completely cooked. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.


Welcome to Tasting Jerusalem

If you’re new to the group, here are our “rules” (there really aren’t any except to cook and share your experiences.)

Group Guidelines:

  1. How often will we cook: We’ll pick a new set of recipes monthly to allow us all to fit in the cooking when we can and to find any ingredients that might not be available at your typical grocery store stop.
  2. Do I need to cook all the recipes?: We offer up several recipes to fit your taste buds, menus, schedules – cook as many or as few as you desire. But once you start cooking from this book, you probably won’t stop!
  3. What do I need to participateJerusalem: A Cookbook Plus an interest in cooking, willingness to try new flavors, and an electronic device that communicates via the Internet. We will always post the month’s information in a blog post via so you can subscribe to Beth’s blog to be guaranteed to receive it or just check in frequently via the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm
  4. How to share what you cook: Tasting Jerusalem is open to anyone. You do not have to be a blogger or food professional of any sort. But if you have a camera, we encourage you to share photos of your dishes on Twitter or the Facebook page or Instagram, using the hashtag #TastingJrslm – we all love to see the results of your kitchen adventures. New to these types of social media? Just drop me an email beth (at) omgyummy (dot) com – I’ll be glad to help you get started.
  5. What recipes can be published and how to publish: We expect to cook through most, if not all, of the recipes in the cookbook over time. As such, for those of us blogging or writing about our experiences in any way, it’s important that we don’t include the recipe in our blog posts, unless Ten Speed Press has approved its use. The goal of the group is to learn together and enrich our experience using this cookbook, not create an online version of it. We are in touch with Ten Speed Press to find out which recipes we can post. For an example of another group that writes about their cooking but doesn’t post each recipe, please visit French Fridays with Dorie. If you legitimately change a recipe, rewrite the headnote and instructions, and choose to share it, please say you’ve adapted it, giving credit to the source including a link to purchase the cookbook.
  6. What if I have questions? Sarene and I will be monitoring the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm almost continuously so just leave us a note there. If you see a question and know the answer, jump on in before us. Part of the fun of the group will be each of us sharing our own knowledge, perspectives and ideas.
  7. What to include if you write a blog post: If you do post about what you cook, please let us know – we will link to it. And feel free to post it on the Facebook page and Twitter with the #TastingJrslm hashtag. We’d also appreciate it if you would include this verbiage in the context of your post:

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest.”

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8 Responses to Ancient and Exotic Saffron: Tasting Jerusalem November 2014

  1. Jamie December 5, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I actually have saffron, gifts from my husband and from an Indian friend, but I’ve never yet cooked of baked with it! But I am very excited because I just found out that saffron is grown in the region we are moving to! In France! So this is a really interesting post, Beth!

    • Beth Lee December 5, 2014 at 10:40 am #

      Thanks Jaime! I’m behind on reading posts – what part of France are you headed to for your new venture? It’s so exciting! I think you will love saffron in your baking Jaime! I just made a squash soup with it and it just lends a subtle nuance and of course, the color speaks for itself!

  2. sandy corman November 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    I remember getting you some saffron when we were in Budapest. Or was it some town in England when we visited our friends Bob and June. What I do remember is how expensive it can be.enjoy it.

    • Beth Lee November 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

      Yes I have a nice little collection of the precious spice!

  3. Hannah November 10, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    It is indeed fortunate that a little saffron goes a long way! I appreciate your overview and will now soak my saffron before using. This tip makes so much sense! I have some saffron my brother brought from Egypt (in a gorgeous bottle) and can’t wait to try some new recipes. The rice from Plenty More sounds very appealing. Thank you for sharing all this saffron goodness! 🙂

    • Beth Lee November 10, 2014 at 10:16 am #

      That rice is at the top of my list – might even happen tonight. I’m so glad to know how to use the spice properly now as well. Such a treasure! Can’t wait to see what you create.

  4. Deb|EastofEdenCooking November 9, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Fascinating information about saffron! Using saffron when “brittle” will now be incorporated into my cooking. Just as with the lessor costing spices thyme, oregano, basil, ect there seems to be a wide variety of pricing and quality with this gem of a seasoning!

    • Beth Lee November 10, 2014 at 10:14 am #

      I have a friend who was just given a gift of a huge tin of Persian saffron. She called me right away – let’s cook! At least I know how to use it properly now!

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