Saffron Quinoa with Zucchini Ribbons

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I’m just mad about saffron. Saffron’s mad about me. Anyone else remember that song? No, I was not around when it first came out, it was in a Mello Yellow soda commercial when I was growing up. Saffron is an interesting flavoring. I haven’t used it often but every time I do, I wonder why I don’t use it more. Saffron is considered a spice, but it’s actually part of a crocus flower and is popular in cooking styles like Iranian and Persian dishes.

There are many varieties and some of them are quite expensive. Hello, I’m cheap so guess which variety I go for. You only need to use a tiny amount so a little goes a long way and even the cheap stuff I use adds plenty of flavor. It’s a hard to describe flavor. Mild and only slightly flowery. Very pleasant but not overpowering. If I didn’t know it was from a flower, I’m not sure I’d even recognize it as “flowery.”

I know, I’m not doing you much good at my vague description. My suggestion – just try it and give me the description in your own words. Some of the purported health benefits of saffron are that it’s a treatment for coughs, colds, stomach ailments, insomnia, scarlet fever, heart trouble, and flatulence. Ha, gotta love that last one. Eat saffron and fart less. I can see the marketing campaign now. 😉

Saffron Quinoa with Zucchini Ribbons Saffron Quinoa with Zucchini Ribbons

  • 2 large zucchini (200g), spiralized into ribbons
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed with your fingers
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2/3 cup frozen green peas
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Use a spiralizer to shred the zucchini into ribbons. Place the ribbons in a microwave safe dish or bowl and microwave for about 1 minute to lightly steam them. You don’t want them mushy!

Heat a pot that has a lid over medium heat and spray with non-stick spray. Saute the onion and carrots for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the water and saffron threads. I measured my saffron and rolled them between my index finger and thumb over the pot to crush them. Crushing is a very scientific process. Shhhh. 😉

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low to medium low, and stir in the couscous and peas. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes until the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and divide evenly among plates. Top with the zucchini ribbons and salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings at approximately 211 calories each – 7g protein, 41g carbs, and 2g fat.


  • You can also use a food processor or mandolin to thinly slice the zucchini instead if you don’t have a spiralizer. Spiralizing is much more fun to make and eat, and you could probably convince your older kids to join in the dinner making fun. Ah, the lure of the spiralizer. 😉
  • I used red quinoa in the recipe since I thought the color of it would be gorgeous with the peas and carrots. Red quinoa (to me) has no different taste than other varieties so feel free to use what you like. White quinoa will most likely turn a pretty yellow with the saffron threads.
  • Saffron adds a nice flowery type flavor to the quinoa. It’s also optional in the recipe so if you don’t have any, don’t fear. Just go without. If you opt for the no saffron variation, I suggest using vegetable broth or chicken broth in place of the water so you still get a nice punch of flavor.

Served as is, it’s obviously vegan and vegetarian friendly. You can also add tofu or tempeh strips for extra protein and keep it meat free. I topped ours with grilled chicken and ate it warm the first time. For lunch the next day, I had it refrigerated like a quinoa salad. I think I might like the cold version just a touch better. It could be that the flavors had a little more time to blend and meld.

Are you mad about saffron? How would you describe the flavor? If you’re looking for another recipe that uses the spiralizer, check out the Pork Paprikash with Yellow Squash Noodles.

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