Saffron Basmati Pilaf (Kesar Bhat)

Saffron Basmati Pilaf (Kesar Bhat)

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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Kesar bhat is the Hindu version of zarda, the classic saffron pilaf prepared by the Muslim Shia community in India and Pakistan. While zarda contains sugar and tastes more like a dessert, kesar bhat is sugarless. Cooked pilaf-style, in the Moghul tradition, it contains onions and the highly aromatic spices cardamom,cinnamon, clove and saffron. This dish is popular in regions where there is a sizable Muslim community. Serve kesar bhat with Moghul dishes and grilled meats.

This recipe calls for usli ghee, which is clarified butter. Indian clarified butter differs from the European equivalent in having been simmered until all the moisture is removed from the milk solids and the fat is amber colored. This gives usli ghee its unique nutty taste.


  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 2 Tbs. usli ghee or vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbs. minced yellow onion
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 3/4 tsp. salt


Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water. In a small bowl, combine the rice, water and saffron and let soak for 30 minutes.

In a saucepan over high heat, warm the usli ghee. When hot, add the onion, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until the onion is limp, about 2 minutes.

Add the rice, its soaking water, the raisins and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, without stirring, until most of the water is evaporated and the surface of the rice is covered with steaming holes, about 6 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to very low and cook the rice for 5 minutes more.

Remove the rice from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 2 to 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring India, by Julie Sahni (Time-Life Books, 2001).
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