Saffron has been coveted throughout history—not only as a spice, but as a dye, a perfume, and a medicine—and remains one of the culinary world's most precious commodities. At once floral and pleasantly bitter, saffron is reminiscent of tobacco, hay, and cedar, with nuances of pepper, citrus seed, and menthol. This elusive flavor is best coaxed out by briefly toasting the threads in a skillet, after which cooks often crumble it directly into the pot or use it to infuse a stock or wine. Well worth the expense, saffron brings unparalleled flavor to a wide variety of dishes, from Swedish pastries to Iranian Kebabs and Indian stews.
Some of southeast Asia's best dishes are found on the streets, at roadside carts and all-night markets. Here are some of our favorite recipes for Indian potato samosas, Malaysian chicken satay, cardamom-soaked donuts and more.