Persian Cranberry Rice Pilaf
Fragrant, slightly sweet, and delicious, Persian cranberry rice pilaf. This rice pilaf is perfect to serve as a side for Thanksgiving. It’s studded with dried cranberries and pistachio and super fragrant from sweet saffron. This saffron rice will be a hit all around!
Especially this cranberry rice pilaf studded with sweet cranberries, BECAUSE I ❤ UNIQUE THANKSGIVING SIDES. This beauty is loaded with cranberries and a handful or two (or three) of crunchy pistachios (or almonds or pecans) *squeals* and made extra yummy nummy with basmati rice, the kind where you can see each individual grain, fragrant with a big pinch of saffron, and flat out flavorful with just a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, bit of spices – oh yes I did.
This is one of those special recipes that have me stealing bites as i’m packing away leftovers. Excuses. That’s what they are. Oh, just a bite because the container is too full to hold any more. Deliberately taking a small bite. Okay, one bite didn’t really do anything, i’ll have to take another one. And that snowballs into packing away at least a 1/4 of a cup of so. Nod and pretend like you know exactly what i’m talking about, will you? Shmanks.
It came as a side on my plate of grilled koobideh kabobs and these cute little grilled nuggets of chicken that were marinated perfectly in the amazing mustard/turmeric/sumac flavor. So technically the cranberry rice pilaf was actually a sweet cherry rice pilaf. And technically they had slivered almonds on top rather than pistachios. But it was love at first bite. And I couldn’t help but quickly jot down the notes I tasted in the rice.
I was itching to attempt making it at home and when I finally did, one bite and I knew I hit the jackpot with this one. Anees said that it tasted just like the rice we had at the persian restaurant – if not better! Score. And since then we’ve made it at least a dozen times. And this recipe isn’t limited to just Thanksgiving, I’ve made it during summer time with my moms famous Jujeh kabob recipe too. The spices in the chicken complement the cranberry rice soooooo well.
If you’ve been in search of the perfect thanksgiving side that’s a little more flavorful than bland mashed potatoes and a boring old salad, this is the one for you! I’m so excited to share this with you guys I can hardly stand it. Let’s do this!
But you guys. When I say simple, I really mean SIMPLE.
Let’s talk about the rice for Persian rice pilaf:
I cannot stress enough that the quality of the rice you use for this cranberry rice pilaf recipe is super duper important. If there is one thing you splurge on for this recipe, let it be the rice. RICE. Okay, I think I’ve made it pretty clear.
To prepare the rice, start by giving it a good rinse under cold, running water. Let the basmati rice soak for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours if you’ve got the time. This step is what helps each grain of rice get nice and tender yet remain completely mush-free. Allow a large pot of water to boil, once boiling, season with a palmful of salt + 2 tablespoons of vinegar. The vinegar helps each grain remain separate from each other. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Boil the rice for 6-8 minutes or until the rice is just al dente. Drain the rice and rinse it with cold running water to stop it from cooking further. A lot less daunting then it looks, am I right?
The rest is a breeze, dahling.
The first bite of gorgeous and perfectly cooked basmati rice all mixed together with sautéed onions, spices, a little sugar, and cranberries. I fell completely in love with the combination of textures and flavors, and the likelihood that i’ll eat the whole pot in the next few days is very high. For reals.
Fresh comfort food. Cranberries in your rice rather than a goopy, gloppy, canned, and questionable cranberry jelly. WIN!
Like, hurry up and put this on your thanksgiving menu already! ❤
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 3 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or butter
- 1 cup onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon sumac powder (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron (soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water for 10 minutes)
- 1/3 cup roasted shelled pistachios (or slivered almonds or pecans)
- Wash the basmati rice thoroughly and soak in water for 30 minutes. If you've got the time soak for up to 2 hours. The longer you soak, the more tender the rice.
- Heat the ghee or butter over medium heat in a 10-inch skillet. Add the onions and sauté them for 3 -4 minutes until they turn translucent. Add the turmeric, sumac powder, cranberries, and salt. Allow the cranberries to cook for 1 minute, then add the sugar, along with 2 tablespoons of water so the onions and cranberries can soak up the sugar. Allow to cook for 3 minutes or until the cranberries soak up all the liquid, turn off the stove and remove from heat.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil (see notes). Drain the rice and add to the boiling water and cook on medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until al dente. Drain the rice and rinse under cool running water to stop cooking; drain. Pour the tablespoon of olive oil into the base of the same pot. Add the rice and pour the saffron water over the rice evenly. Top with the cranberry mixture and the pistachios. Wrap the lid of the pot with a thin kitchen towel and cover the pot. This helps build steam to help cook the rice through. Cook the rice on high for 3 minutes, then turn the heat down to super-low and continue to cook for 10 more minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
- I like to add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar once the water is boiling along with a palmful of salt before adding in the rice. Though this is completely optional, I find that it makes the rice fluffy and flavorful.
- Sumac is available in most middle eastern grocery stores in the spice aisle.