Rice pilaf is a buttery, aromatic, and terrifically customizable side dish with endless potential for delicious add-ins. My scrumptious and easy rice pilaf recipe calls for fragrant basmati rice, some crunchy pistachios plus a handful of plump dried cherries to create a rice dish that's savory with a touch of sweetness, and a deliciously unique accompaniment to your favorite main dish!
Rice Pilaf, the Perfect Buttery, Fragrant Side Dish
Simple, wonderful rice...the possibilities are not only endless, but also mouthwatering when it comes to this precious grain, which makes rice one of the most prepared sides that many of us so often enjoy at dinner time.
One of my favorite ways to cook with rice when I'm looking to turn it into a creative and delicious side dish is to prepare it as a pilaf, brimming with lots of buttery aroma, flecks of onion and garlic, plus whatever pretty and vibrant bells and whistles I feel inclined to include.
I personally love a lot of color and texture in my rice pilaf recipe, a bit of crunch and chew under tooth, and will almost always include some herbs, toasted nuts and at least a small handful of dried fruit.
Preparing rice pilaf in this way creates a super interesting side dish that I can serve with pretty much everything from chicken, beef, pork, fish or shrimp, adding a bit of flavorful pizzaz to the offering on my table.
What I love about my rice pilaf recipe here is that while I include my personal favorite add-ins—pistachios and dried cherries—you could easily swap out your own preferred combination of ingredients or simply use the base recipe, leaving out the nuts and dried fruit altogether, for more savory flavor.
However you prefer to enjoy your rice pilaf, the beauty of it is its versatility and its buttery aroma and slightly “toasty” flavor, making it one of the best, easy side dishes around.
How to Make Rice Pilaf
In its most basic preparation, rice pilaf pretty much is rice toasted in some butter with aromatics such as onion and/or garlic.
Tiny, broken-up pieces of vermicelli, or even orzo pasta, can also be added to the mix while the rice is being toasted, but this it totally optional. I don't typically include them in my rice pilaf recipe, but one could easily add a couple tablespoons or even a quarter cup worth of either of these, and increase the water slightly when simmering.
For my rice pilaf, I like to start with basmati, an innately flavorful variety of rice, which has this wonderful scent that perfumes the pilaf as it cooks.
I use ghee or butter in my pan, add some aromatics by way of finely diced onions, as well as some garlic, then saute the unwashed rice in this mixture for a few minutes until toasted. (The rice needs to stay dry, otherwise it won't crisp and toast in the hot butter.)
Once the rice has simmered and is fluffy and tender, that's when I sprinkle in some finely chopped herbs, plus a handful of nuts and dried fruit, or whatever other kind of ingredients I'm adding to the pilaf.
Here's a glance at my rice pilaf recipe:. (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To begin, I get my saute pan (non-sticking is best) nice and hot, with a bit of ghee or butter; once melted, I add in my onion and saute that until softened.
- Next, I add in basmati rice (along with some salt and pepper) and toast that in the hot butter and onion mixture for a few minutes, then add in the garlic and stir to combine.
- I add in my water, bring the rice to the boil, reduce the heat, and then simmer the rice gently (covered) for 18-20 minutes, or until tender and fluffy.
- Once the rice is cooked, I allow it to stand for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork, and sprinkling in my pistachios, dried cherries and finely chopped herbs.
by Ingrid Beer
Cuisine: Middle Eastern, American
Yield: Serves 6
Nutrition Info: 295 calories per serving
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
- 3 tablespoons ghee, or unsalted butter
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- Black pepper
- 1 ½ cups (unrinsed) basmati rice (or other longer grain white rice)
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed through garlic press
- 2 ¼ cups of water
- 1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
- ¼ cup shelled pistachios (or other nut)
- ⅓ cup dried cherries (or other dried fruit)
- Place a large (preferably non-stick) skillet or pan over medium-high heat, and add in the ghee or butter; once melted, add in the finely diced onion plus a couple of pinches of salt, and saute the onion for about 5 minutes, until it is softened.
- Next, pour the rice into the pan, along with another pinch of two of salt plus some pepper, and stir to incorporate and coat the rice in the buttery onion mixture, toasting it for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add in the pressed garlic and stir to combine; once aromatic (about 30 seconds or so), pour in the water, stir to combine things, and bring the rice to a boil.
- Once the rice begins to vigorously boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer the rice until soft and fluffy, about 18-20 minutes.
- Allow the rice to stand, uncovered, for 5 minutes; then, fluff with a fork to loosen the grains.
- Finish the rice pilaf by sprinkling in the finely minced parsley, the pistachios and the dried cherries, and fluff to combine. Check the seasoning of the pilaf and add more salt/pepper if needed, and serve while hot as a side dish.
Tips & Tidbits for my Rice Pilaf:
- Start with aromatic rice: Rice that is innately aromatic is my favorite way to prepare a really delicious rice pilaf recipe. I happen to be a big fan of basmati rice, but jasmine is terrific as well. You can certainly use plain white rice, just choose a longer grain.
- Saute in butter or ghee: Ghee is clarified butter, and has a wonderfully rich, nutty fragrance. It also has a really high smoke point, which means that it won't burn easily. You could substitute regular unsalted butter here as well, or even use olive oil or avocado oil if you prefer. But the butter provides some extra flavor and aroma.
- Choose your add-ins: I opt for pistachios and dried cherries here, but you could easily substitute almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, any nut you prefer, or even leave 'em out! As for the dried fruit, finely diced apricots or dried cranberries are excellent options as well, or leave out all the extra add-ins and make a more basic rice pilaf if you prefer, using just a bit of fresh herbs added in at the end.
Craving more delicious rice dishes? Check out this Mediterranean Rice, this Beef Fried Rice, this Smoked Sausage and Red Rice Skillet, this Chicken Fried Rice, or this Mushroom Risotto!
Can't wait to make this, Ingrid! Mr. Squash spent several years in Peace Corps in Nepal before being drafted into the Army. He always says he was the only one in his unit that thought Army food was great after spending his time in Nepal eating mostly rice and Dahl! To this day he loves Basmati rice cooked any way, though, and this will be a treat!
The Cozy Apron
Oooh, then I think you two will enjoy this rice dish, then! Basmati is my go-to rice for all occasions—I find it the most delicious and the best to work with. Hope you both enjoy this, Candace! xoxo
WINNER! What a wonderful treat from the usual old potatoes, Ingrid! Thank you for sharing your take on rice pilaf. We loved it. No cherries today (again, too lazy to go out and too impatient to wait till I got some) so I used organic apricots snipped to cherry size. lol Hope all is well on your side of the country. Blessings for you and Michael. xo
The Cozy Apron
Linda, I LOVE how quick you are to try my recipes! Makes my heart so happy. 🙂
The apricots are perfect—they'd be another option that I'd personally use. I'm so glad you enjoyed the pilaf, and that it turned out to be such a nice departure from the usual potatoes.
Thanks so much for sharing with me! Much love...