Posts Tagged ‘saffron’

Iranian Fairtrade Saffron

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

We’ve just been informed that our gorgeous Fairtrade saffron has been removed from Amazon’s listings.

Iranian saffron is in breach of US sanctions against Iran, so cannot be sold in the UK.  Despite the nuclear deal signed in 2015, US companies still cannot trade with Iran on many products, so Amazon gets caught under that.  They’ve, also, removed an Iranian spice blend – sabzi ghormeh – that we make here in Yorkshire for sanction busting.  It’s a pity because both are good products.  I am sure that soon the position will be improved.

Needless to say, you can still buy it direct from Steenbergs and support the rural poor in Torbat, Iran.  In March, we posted some good photos of saffron picking in Iran.

From a UK perspective, the official UK Government’s position is that “There is a positive outlook for UK-Iran trade relations and the UK Government fully supports expanding our trade relationship with Iran.”

Fairtrade Saffron In Photos

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

It’s Fairtrade fortnight.  As part of this, I thought I would share some photos of our Iranian saffron being harvested.  Steenbergs Fairtrade saffron comes from the Arghavan Dasht Paeezan co-operative in Iran, and is picked and processed by hand.

The saffron is harvested in autumn, when the weather is cold and humid enough for the flowers to bloom.  The farmers and farmhands have to go early in the morning to pick the crocuses when they open with the rising sun.  Farmhands are usually from extended rural families or groups from nearby villages.  As the day heats up, the picked crocuses become much harder to clean because the petals lose their freshness and rigidity.

The harvesting continues for a fortnight or a month, depending on the crop.  Every day new flowers bloom, and each day the farmers labour from before sunrise and leave in the late afternoon.

The temperature is close to freezing, and often an autumn breeze also blows strongly, making the saffron harvest very difficult. The workers are given breakfast, lunch and hot drinks during the harvesting to keep them warm.

After then, the stamens need to be picked out of the crocuses by hand, and then dried, before getting the final deep orange-red spice filaments.

Recipe For Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of the classics of British cuisine is to poach pears in red wine or syrup.  As a variation on this, I sometimes create a sweet spicy syrup to poach the pears in, then reduce these to a thick, sweet sauce.  Recently, however, I have been thinking about how to use teas and infusions in my cooking, as well as the impact of different liquids such as beer versus wine and even different beers, to add extra depth to the flavour of your food without bringing in too much extra complexity.

That’s a rather geeky way of saying the liquids you use in cooking can alter subtly the flavour of the meal and they are something we all tend to ignore when cooking, focusing on the big ingredients like the meat or the vegetables or the mix of spices, then just pouring in tap water or “red wine” when we should be screaming hard or soft water, bottled water, fizzy and which red wine, wine from where, as it makes a huge difference.

So as an experiment, I brewed up a large pot of Red Chai Tea, which I make with an organic rooibos tea from South Africa and my own flavour combination of spices.  I left this to steep for a bit then filtered out the sweet, orangey-red tea that is coloured like an amazing African sunset.  Next, you add a mix of ginger powder, saffron and Madagascan vanilla and a light muscovado sugar to the tea; in my usual recipe, I add lemon zest but not here as there is lemongrass in the chai spice mix.  This is the base flavour for the pears and the sweet sauce, which you then use to poach some pears.

At this time of the year, pears are deliciously ripe but you can use this recipe even on the most flavourless brick of a pear in mid winter and get some flavour into them and soften them up, so it is good for your five-a-day.  The result are perfectly soft and succulent sweet pears in a sweet sauce that has a richly luxuriant saffron-vanilla flavour.  Sometimes, I finish my normal versions of this recipe with a vanilla whipped cream, but that really is almost too decadent and I did not have any cream the other night.  Eating with a knife and fork, the knife just glides through the soft flesh of the pear and the taste is heavenly with the characteristic sweetness of the pears perfectly offset by the chocolately, creaminess of the vanilla.

It does take a bit of time to make, but not much effort.  And simple is often the best thing in life.

How To Make Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

4 pears (choose the nicest you can find, but they should still be hard)
500ml normally brewed rooibos tea or Red Chai tea
125g Fairtrade light muscovado sugar
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod
½ pinch organic saffron
¼ tsp organic Fairtrade ginger
125ml double or whipping cream (optional)
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod (optional)

Peel the pears leaving the stalk, then cut a small slice off the base of the pear to enable them to stand upright in the pan and on the plate.  Find a heavy bottomed pan that is tall enough to accomodate the full height of the pears with the pan lid over the top.  Leave the pears on a plate to the side for the moment.

In a family sized tea pot, brew the rooibos tea.  It is best to use loose leaf tea as the tea bag imparts a dusty, foisty flavour to the tea, but a teabag will do for convenience.  Brew as normal based on equivalent of 1 teaspoon per person so that is 4 heaped teaspoons into the pot, using freshly drawn water that has been brought to the boil, then steeped for 5 minutes; strain and pour into the pan.

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Add the light muscovado sugar, saffron and ginger.  For the vanilla, slice this lengthways and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the rooibos tea, then place the whole bean into the liquid for good measure.

Place the pears upright into the pan, put the lid carefully over the pears slightly off the rim.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and poach for 45 minutes until the pears are perfectly soft; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of the pears.  Take the pears out of the sauce, put on a plate and leave to cool fully.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the saffron and any bits.  Return the pan to the hob and heat to a vigorous boil and reduce the syrup to about 150ml.  Leave the syrup to cool.

To make the vanilla cream: pour 125ml of cream into a bowl; slice a vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream; using an electric or hand whisk, whisk to a thick, whipped cream.  Place in fridge while the pears and sauce are cooling to allow the vanilla flavours to infuse the cream.

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Place the pears onto individual plates and pour over some of the sauce.  Add a tablespoon of vanilla whipped cream on the side of each plate.

Recipe – cheat’s paella or cheating at rice dishes

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

During the week, we have a constant battle at the end of each day to make something nutritious for the family in the 45 minutes after picking up the kids from school and tea time.  The meal needs to be made at the same time as we’re trying to persuade the kids to look at their homework and contemplate doing their music practice.


Finding things that are interesting to eat, and are quick and simple, are a real challenge.  This type of cooking is sadly neglected by TV chefs and most cookery writers who assume limitless time & money and an unrestricted storecupboard, which is sadly very depleted by Thursday night.


The cheat’s paella is something that fills the gap.  It assumes only that you have got some rice, some onions, some garlic and some paprika in the house. 


I am also going to explain it a bit differently from the way most recipes are shown; one of my issues with much of cookery done on TV and in books is that it is done as if we are in a chemistry lesson, i.e. here’s a list of things you need and a load of steps to follow.  I don’t think this is how cooking should be explained or shown as most cooking is based around a few processes or steps that can then be built on infinitely to make a whole range of different flavours but based around the same starting concept.  Paella is similar, or at least a cheat’s paella is similar.


The core process


Stage 1 – making the rice


225g     Rice (theoretically it should be paella/risotto rice but we actually prefer a long-grained rice like basmati, plus basmati is more versatile in our house)

450ml   Water

6          Threads of saffron (optional)


Cook the rice how you would normally cook it until it is still a bit crunchy.  This should take about 10 minutes.  If you want to use the saffron, put the saffron in a mug or measuring jug, boil some water in a kettle and pour about 200ml of hot water onto the saffron.  Leave it to infuse for about 10 minutes, then strain this liquid into the rice and use it to cook the rice, replacing 200ml of the 450ml of water from the above recipe.  Actually, there is no need to be this precise – we assume a cupped hand of rice per person and then just cover the rice with water and cook, topping up as you need it.  With rice practice makes you better (rarely perfect). 


Stage 2 – making the base flavour


3          Cloves garlic

1          Medium-sized onion

2tbsp    Olive oil

2tsp      Paprika

Pinch    Salt


Chop up garlic and onion finely.  I actually put these in a food processor as our children are at that stage where (if they can see them) garlic and onions are the devil’s food, but if you chop them up really finely they don’t even notice that they are eating it.  Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pan and over a medium heat cook the garlic-onions until they are just beginning to brown at the edges.  Add the paprika and salt and stir together.


Personalising the dish


Stage 3 – being creative


This is the stage at which you personalise the rice dish.  Basically you need some vegetables (traditionally this would be 2 rice tomatoes and 1 red pepper but we often add broccoli as the kids love eating this) and some protein (traditionally wild rabbit, crayfish, prawns or snails, none of which are very easy to come by, so we use ham, pre-cooked prawns and any left-over meat in the fridge).  Down below is how we did it the other day:


1          Breast of chicken, chopped into bite sized cubes

10        Scallops

16        Slices of chorizo

10        Pre-cooked prawns


These things are cooked together with the garlic-onion in the order needed to ensure that they are all cooked through.  Raw chicken is added a few minutes before starting to the cook the garlic-onions and will take about the same length of time as the onions.  The scallops take about 3 minutes so are added towards the end of cooking the onions, i.e. after about 5-6 minutes, then the chorizo and prawns are added in the last 2 minutes just to cook them through.  Add the drained rice to the vegetables and meat and mix thoroughly.


Serve with a green salad.


It is useful to have the oven on at 125oC at the same time, so if you get your timing wrong, you can either put the rice of the meat mix into the oven to keep warm, or if your kids are playing up and don’t come to tea straight away you can keep the whole lot warm in the oven without it spoiling.


Variations on a theme


You can make this into any style of cuisine by changing the flavour in Stage 2, so if you replace the paprika with curry powder, it can become a kedgeree style meal.  Here are some simple ideas:


1tsp Madras curry powder, plus replace chorizo with fish = cheat’s kedgeree rice


1tsp Nasi goreng, plus change chorizo for cooked ham, and add some salted peanuts (coarsely chopped) and 1 tablespoon light soy sauce = cheat’s Indonesian nasi goreng