The flavour of royalty

The flavour of royalty

Saffron has enjoyed quite the exotic charmer’s status since ancient ages, writes Sangeeta Sen.

That evening, as I sat sipping a hot cup of some saffron tea, the distinct, floral honeyed tone of the saffron tea took me back to the time when the ancient Persians of the Achaemenid Empire mixed ‘kurkum’, rather saffron, with their tea. Even Alexander - the Great drank saffron tea.

Interestingly, the prized preference for the saffron spice led to a wide array of saffron-gilded dishes. The Spanish cooks at the royal kitchens of the Moor Kings in ancient Spain, toasted the special ‘azafran’ (saffron spice) while preparing the traditional Paella. On the other hand, in ancient Provençe, the French steeped the ‘safran’ along with dried sherry in the boiling Fish Bouillabaisse Soup so as to let out the intense aroma and flavour of the saffron spice; while the Italians preferred simmering and stirring in a hot broth chopped saffron strands, popularly called ‘zafferano’, with rice during the process of making the traditional Risotto Alla Milanese. Then, the Moroccans crumbled the saffron threads and added it to their Tajine dish.

Indeed, wherever it went, the delectable saffron, with its distinct flavour and aroma, turned out to be a highly esteemed spice. While many a cook has looked upon the saffron spice as an exotic and expensive spice ingredient of cuisine through the ages, physicians and scientists rave about the role of saffron in promoting good health.

Take, for instance, the saffron tea. A glance through a treasure trove of various ancient texts tells me that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans believed that the saffron tea helped promote a better digestive system. Corroborating these views, recent scientific research studies have pointed out that the saffron tea leads to a smooth flow of gastric juices and, above all, a proper movement of food through the stomach, thereby accounting for a healthy digestion process.

In addition, a high fatty acid content in the saffron tea helps protect the vision cells, thereby, accounting for better eyesight. Also, flavonoids like lycopene in the tea help cut down the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, the presence of a chemical element called crocin in the saffron component of the tea is packed with anti oxidants that protect the body from viral infections, stress disorders and, above all, cancer growths.

The preparation of a rejuvenating saffron tea would require 2 crushed green cardamom pods, 4 saffron strands 2 teaspoons honey, 3 teaspoons of tea leaves, and 2 cups of water. In a pan, boil the water and add the saffron strands, crushed cardamom pods, honey as well as the tea leaves. Simmer for at least 5 minutes and then, remove the pan from heat. Cover and steep for a couple of minutes. Finally, pour this saffron tea into cups and consume immediately.

Saffron, has been an essential ingredient of Spanish cuisine as “azaffran”. According to historical sources, Saffron Soup with Garlic was highly preferred in the Madrid region of Spain in the ancient times. Health-wise, the saffron in this soup has been known to increase the production of chemicals like serotonin in the brain. This, in turn, helps regulate the mood. In addition, high selenium levels in garlic also acts as mood-enhancers.

For preparing the ancient Spanish Saffron Soup with Garlic, you will require about 15-20 crumbled saffron strands, 4 whole garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon cumin powder; 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon paprika, salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 4 cups water, and 4 crusty bread slices. In a pan, heat some oil and sauté the whole garlic cloves until browned. Crush these garlic cloves and keep them aside.

Next add the crusty bread slices, fry them until golden brown on both sides and remove them. Now, dry roast the paprika and cumin powders. Add the saffron, water and boil the mixture until the saffron lets out its colour and aroma. Add the crushed garlic cloves and allow the mixture to simmer for at least 5-10 minutes. Add salt as desired. Now, break the eggs into this broth mixture and cook until the eggs have hardened. Finally, add the crusty bread slices into the broth and ladle this ancient healthy comfort delicacy into bowls.

Yet another healthy saffron preparation dating back to the ancient times would be the famous Persian Sholeh Zard (Saffron Rice Pudding). The saffron here helps promote a healthy digestion, control the blood pressure and, more importantly, a high level of carotenoids in saffron help prevent cancer.

Preparation of this pudding would require 1 teaspoon saffron strands, 1 cup of washed basmati rice, 1 cup of washed sugar, 4 cups water, 2 green cardamom pods, crushed and soaked in ½ cup of rosewater, ¼ cup chopped almonds, 1 cinnamon stick and a few chopped pistachios. In a pan placed over a gentle flame, cook the rice until it turns tender. Add the sugar and cook until the water, sugar and rice mixture is of a thick consistency. Meanwhile, grind the saffron strands with a little sugar.

Add some hot water to the ground saffron. Brew the saffron for a couple of minutes and subsequently, add it to the rice. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crushed cardamom pods-rosewater mixture. Stir and cook over a low flame until the whole mixture turns thick. Finally, serve the exotic Sholeh Zard (Saffron Rice Pudding) on an oval dish, garnished with cinnamon sticks and chopped pistachios.

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