Photography: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Lydia DeGaris-Pursell Photo by: Photography: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Lydia DeGaris-Pursell

Chicken and Basmati Rice Pilau with Saffron, Spinach, and Cardamom

Saffron and basmati rice are natural partners, enhanced here with the orange flavor of cardamom. The aromas commingle in a uniquely exotic fragrance. The cardamom in the pilaf is left whole, so the pods need to be bruised or crushed slightly to allow the flavor of the seeds to escape. Serve this dish with yogurt and cilantro relish flavored with a little crushed garlic and ground, toasted cumin. If you don't have a nonstick skillet large enough to hold 10 cups, use a Dutch oven. Covering the mixture with a towel holds in steam and moisture to finish cooking the rice.

Cooking Light DECEMBER 2003

  • Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 2 cups)


  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice
  • 3/4 cup dried lentils
  • Cooking spray
  • 10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 cups vertically sliced onion
  • 2 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups warm fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
  • 1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds


Cover rice with cold water. Let stand for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse the rice with cold water. Drain.

Sort and rinse lentils. Place lentils in a small saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above lentils. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes or until almost tender. Drain.

Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Remove chicken from pan. Add onion and ginger to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until tender. Add carrot and cardamom; sauté 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add rice, lentils, rind, juice, salt, and pepper. Combine broth and saffron; stir until saffron is dissolved. Add saffron mixture to pan; bring to a simmer. Cover and cook 15 minutes or until rice is almost tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in spinach. Remove from heat. Cover with a towel; place lid over towel. Let stand 10 minutes.

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Sprinkle almonds over chicken mixture.

Nutritional Information

Amount per serving
  • Calories: 601
  • Calories from fat: 19%
  • Fat: 12.7g
  • Saturated fat: 2.2g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 6.1g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 2.8g
  • Protein: 40.1g
  • Carbohydrate: 85.8g
  • Fiber: 14.5g
  • Cholesterol: 96mg
  • Iron: 7.4mg
  • Sodium: 837mg
  • Calcium: 119mg

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Chicken and Basmati Rice Pilau with Saffron, Spinach, and Cardamom recipe