Sexy Saffron

by Marlies Dekkers
Meet my latest spice obsession: saffron. A bright red spice so sensual and precious, I like to call it the Louboutin of the spice world.

Saffron, a member of the lily family, is the delicate part of the flower that catches pollen, also known as the stigma. Just imagine: there are only a few stigmas per flower and they need to be carefully collected by hand. For the production of a single kilogram of saffron, more than 100.000 flowers and 400 hours of labour are needed! No wonder the most expensive spice in the world is also known as ‘red gold’.

So why go through all that trouble? Since ancient times, saffron has been used as an aphrodisiac, a dye, a medicine and a taste-maker. Alexander the Great and his forces mixed saffron in their teas and dined on saffron rice (scroll down for a great recipe!), and Cleopatra used a quarter-cup of saffron in her warm baths, -did that woman ever leave her bathtub?- as she supposedly loved its colouring, cosmetic and aphrodisiac effects. During the Italian renaissance women would coat their hair with a mixture of saffron and lemon and stay out in the sun to get that famous Venetian blond hair colour we now call strawberry blond. The original Brigitte Bardots..

What does it actually do? Well, saffron is among the richest plant sources of vitamin B2 and A. It’s a natural anti-oxidant and sedative and thanks to the pigments it also improves digestion.

You can buy powdered saffron, but I like to get the threads. Two grams are good for about 75 cups of tea, and I love opening the small jar and smelling that unique scent that reminds me of sun-warmed hay and honey. If you like the taste of green tea, you’ll love saffron tea. It has a similar earthy yet fresh flavor, but without the caffeine. Just don’t drink too much of it; 5 grams or more per day can have harmful effects. Also in that sense, I saffron reminds me a lot of Louboutins; too much of a good thing…

Tea with benefits:
Add a pinch (5-10 threads) of saffron to a cup of boiling water and let it steep for 5 minutes. For the best results, first let the threads soak in some tepid water, then add the boiling water.
Saffron rice:
Ingredients for 6 servings:
1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron
2 cups boiling water, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked long-grain white or brown
1 teaspoon salt

Steep the saffron in 1/2 cup boiling water.
In a skillet that can be tightly covered, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to absorb the butter and becomes opaque, but do not brown the rice. Quickly pour in the remaining 1 1/2 cups boiling water along with the saffron water. Cover immediately, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes, 40 minutes if using brown rice, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. For best results, do not remove the lid while the rice is cooking.
Tip: serve with a light sprinkle of cinnamon and toasted pine nuts.

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