Recipe: Lemony Saffron Chicken Pilaf

I absolutely love Nigella. She cooks like I do – like someone who just loves food. It’s earthy and rustic, only precise when baking and even then she is a bit free and loose. She doesn’t count calories and celebrates richness and flavour.

But I need be counting calories.

So, I’ve taken her wonderful Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaf and lightened it up a bit. I’ve used a bit less chicken (418g cause that’s the awkward Waitrose pack size) and rice (400g) since there is just two of us; but I’ve also increased the serving size, so it makes 4 servings instead of 6, for a big hearty bowl. I’ve kept the nuts the same amount because I love them, but these could probably be reduced in the end to cut more calories, since that’s where a lot of them come from; and I cut back to 1 tbs oil instead of 3. I also added an onion, based on some of the user comments that this was a bit bland; and then was heavy-handed with some sumac to increase the lemony zing. Finally, I marinated the chicken in 50g low fat Greek yoghurt, instead the 200g regular she uses – since you discard the marinade anyway, it seems a waste to have the chicken swim in it, and unneeded calories. I also only calculated 30g in the final dish, since most of it was tossed.

So in the end, I knocked a couple hundred calories off, woohoo! The original recipe was 682cal/6 servings; and 1023cal/4 servings; mine is 530cal/6 servings; and 795cal/4 servings. That probably still sounds like a lot, but I do count cals and tend to have the bulk of mine for dinner. You could definitely have this as 6 servings and add a nice veg side, but I couldn’t be arsed tonight!

My favourite part is it was delicious – in flavour, it was very close to my beloved Chicken Almandine, a dish I NEVER want to calorie count. I just want to enjoy it on the odd special occasion.


  • 418ish grams chicken breasts (cut into 2 x 1cm / ¼ inch cubes)
  • 50 grams greek yoghurt
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I forgot this!)
  • ½ teaspoon saffron strands
  • 800ml chicken stock (made from 2 Knorr stock pots)
  • 15 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon groundnut oil, divided
  • 400 grams basmati rice
  • 4 cardamom pods (bruised)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 50 grams cashew nuts
  • 50 grams flaked almonds
  • 25 grams pinenuts
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios (shelled)
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley (chopped) (I also forgot this!)


COPIED FROM NIGELLA with my edits in italics.

  1. Marinate the chicken pieces in the yoghurt, lemon and cinnamon for about an hour. I did 3. Soak the saffron threads in the chicken stock. I did this later when I made stock while cooking onion.
  2. In a dry pan – the one you will use for your rice – toast your nuts as in step 5, then set aside.
  3. Over medium heat, in a large pan with a lid, melt the butter along with 1/2 tablespoon oil and onion and sauté until translucent, then add the rice, stirring it to coat until glossy. Pour in the saffron and chicken stock, add the cardamom pods, lemon juice and zest and bring the pan to the boil, then clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to very low; a heat diffuser, if you’ve got one, would be good here. I mean really. Cook like this for about 10-15 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed the liquid and be cooked through.
  4. While the rice is cooking, shake the excess yoghurt marinade off the chicken using a sieve. Then fry the meat in a hot pan with the remaining spoonful or so of oil, and a couple teaspoons of sumac if you have it, and do this in batches so that the chicken colours rather than just pallidly stews to cookedness. I think if you drain the chicken and your pan is hot enough you can do it all in one, I did.
  5. When the rice is cooked, take it off the heat and fork through the pan-bronzed chicken pieces. Toast all the nuts except the pistachios, by simply shaking them in an oil-less frying-pan over a medium heat until they colour and begin to give off their waxy scent [you did this above because you are efficient], and then add them to the pilaf along with the chopped parsley. Pile everything on to a plate and add a fabulously green sprinkling of slivered or roughly chopped pistachios.

Author: Robyne Calvert

Cultural Historian... art, design, architecture, fashion, etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: