Last night, I found myself using the “golden threads” of the spice world – saffron.
Though their hue is a vivid red-orange, they are dubbed “golden” for three reasons: their color dying capabilities (both in food and textiles); they’re expensive (.03 ounces can cost you $20); and some dishes are considered incomplete and inauthentic without it, including bouillabaisse and paella.
Expensive, delicate strands of saffron are pricey because of their harvesting process. Every fall, the flower “saffron crocus,” (or officially, “crocus sativus,”) blooms in countries including Iran, Greece, and Spain. When they do, they produce red-orange stigmas (the threads) … but just three threads are produced per flower. These golden threads are plucked, cured to release the complex chemical process inside each strand, and then used in kitchens all over the world. (Click here to see a picture of the purple flower with the saffron strands.)
I agreed to pay the price for such an expensive ingredient back in 2014 for Bouillabaisse. It’s generally used sparingly not just because of the price, but its powerful flavor. I find it floral and sweet. Some say it’s reminiscent to honey. However you paint it, the spice is unlike any other.
Alongside the saffron rice, Uzbek Plov made for a delicious, memorable meal. Bites of lamb cooked alongside onion, carrots, dried apricots, and nuts were a welcomed combination for us. Azerbaijan is on the cusp of the Middle Eastern region. Though the ingredients were reminiscent of stereotypical Middle Eastern cuisine, the spices were not. This was because fewer spices were used to create the dish. It’s fairly straight forward with cumin and lots of garlic, and this allowed the saffron to take center stage with ease – no complaints here.
Also, if lamb doesn’t fit your fancy, there are many variations on the dish, including beef and vegetarian. Give them a look!
- olive oil
- lamb leg, deboned, cut into 5 cm pieces
- garlic cloves, finely chopped
- carrots, chopped
- onions, chopped
- ground cumin
- dried apricots
- dried chestnuts
- long-grain rice
- saffron threads
- beef stock
- flat-leaf parsley, to serve
S: “This dish is an instant classic, and in my top five. Give it a shot!”
T: “Maybe add a pinch of salt to the lamb, but really tasty!”
- The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku
- The official language is Azerbaijani
- It is part of the Transcaucasian region, separating Eastern Europe (Russia) from Western Asia (Iran and Turkey), and are named after the Caucasus Mountains within the region
- By the 1920s, the Soviet Union claimed and conquered Azerbaijan, and primarily for its oil. Azerbaijan would gain its independence back in December of 1991
- Yanar Dag is a natural gas fire that burns continuously on a hillside in Baku. It is a tourist attraction, and gives Azerbaijan its nickname, “the Land of Fire”