spanish chickpeas and rice

It may not feel much like spring, but eating flowers might be a provisional substitute for smelling them. It will do, for awhile. This flower, or rather its papery crimson stigmas, has been sitting in my cupboard for almost a year now, summoning me to release its captive aromas.

It is the rare and venerable saffron of which I speak. An exquisite and expensive spice that, were it not for a trip to India, might have never wound up in my hands, let alone my dinner.

saffron chickpeas

Finally it was time. I reached behind the basil, cayenne and turmeric into the shadows of my spice shelf where the clear case sat, modest as a box of matches. Almost one year ago now I carried that tiny treasure chest all the way home from a spice stall in a Jodhpur market. The experts say I should’ve used it by now, but sometimes I forget what good things I have and how to best appreciate them.

I knew I had tasted saffron before, but could not recall its particular feel on my tongue or the way it whirled madly between nostrils and tastebuds. I wanted to use it right, and I was afraid. The delicately canvas of rice, or something more complex? Would sweet or savory best highlight its essence? Would meat overpower? Which vegetable would be most companionable.


And then I stopped worrying and remembered that when a dish is born out of a desire to celebrate and create, it matters not that it’s perfect but that it brims with pleasure. As I tossed a pinch of this valuable spice into a pan of humble chickpeas and tomatoes simmering gaily on the stove, it just seemed right. The noble saffron threads kissed the peasant stew, and I bent over the aroma expectantly. My Kashmiri saffron would taste just fine, while reminding me of the rare things in this world: from love and camaraderie to being able to taste the threads from a crocus that grow only three per flower.


Served with basmati rice, it may not have been authentically Spanish, but with some crab cakes leftover from a great party on the weekend, it made a simple and nourishing meal. In the future I might crown it with some grilled prawns or scallops. With my last bite came a wave of anticipation for weaving those frail red threads again and again.

Spanish Chickpeas

serves 2-3 with leftovers or 4-5 as a side dish


3 c chopped fresh Roma or vine tomatoes
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 T soy sauce
2 tsp Adobo sauce (I used a chipotle salsa and a squirt of Sriracha)
1 Tbsp paprika
medium pinch saffron
2 c chopped red onion
1 T olive oil
2 15-oz cans chickpeas (3 cups cooked)


  1. Soak the pinch of saffron in a few tablespoons of boiling water while you prepare the other ingredients, cook up some rice, etc. Ideally, it should be soaked for about 2o-45 minutes (saffron releases its flavour slowly).
  2. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce, adobo and paprika and set aside.
  3. Saute the red onions in the olive oil over medium heat until soft.
  4. Add the chickpeas, tomato mixture, and saffron (with the soaking water). Simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  5. Serve over rice.

Spiced Saffron Rice from Gourmet Magazine

Rice Pudding with Lemon and Saffron from Edible Adventures

Lentil Soup with Saffron Yogurt from 101 cookbooks