If you've eaten paella, then you've certainly tasted the eccentric flavor of saffron, the dried, threadlike flower stigmas with an unlike-anything-else flavor. It's distinct, warming to the senses, and releases a brilliant sunset-yellow color.
While it has shone in centuries past, in many modern kitchens it's underutilized, perhaps because it's one of the most expensive ingredients out there. But there's good reason for that. The tiny stigmas are mostly harvested by hand, and it takes just under 80,000 blossoms to produce 1 pound of this spice. But you generally need only a generous pinch in order to get both the color and flavor you want in your food.
Which is why it's so worth the splurge. In recent months it's become my favorite ingredient to play around with in the kitchen. Once I started adding it to my dishes, I became obsessed. I used it in a fish dish, then in a cauliflower rice recipe, and then I got really out there, and added it to dessert. Heaven.
What got me into saffron, aside from its flavor, are its purported health benefits. Crocin, a carotenoid in saffron, is believed produce an antidepressant effect by aiding serotonin production. Crocin also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.
As far as I see it, saffron is the new turmeric. Here are new ways to incorporate it into your cooking:
1. Brighten traditional hummus.
You've seen, or made, a wide range of hummus—roasted garlic, chipotle, lemon, roasted red pepper, and more. The list of options is endless. Next time you make hummus, try leaving out the tahini and sub in concentrated saffron water, which you can make simply. Just dissolve a large pinch of saffron in about ½ cup of boiling water, then set aside to cool.
2. Kick up cauliflower rice.
Dissolve a large pinch of saffron in about ½ cup of boiling water, then set aside to cool. Pulse cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice. Then toss the cauliflower rice in the saffron water with a touch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast at 375°F for 20 minutes. Once you remove it from your oven, toss it with capers, dried fruit of choice, toasted nuts, and a fresh herb.
3. Add it to sweet dishes.
For a to-die-for sweetened saffron yogurt, dissolve a large pinch of saffron in about ½ cup of hot milk or cream, then let it cool. Mix that in with 2 percent Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey. It's delicious on its own or dolloped onto a sturdy cake.
4. Infuse your go-to finishing salt.
Since finding saffron salt in an LA shop, I've been sprinkling this divine substance on everything from my scrambled eggs to my avo-toast (or alt toast). It's simple but really changes a dish. How can you make your own? Just grab a spice grinder and grind away. Then toss it in with your favorite finishing salt.