What Is Rice Pilaf?

Rice pilaf is a rice and pasta dish that can be made with a variety of types of rice and pasta.  The common denominator in all pilaf recipes is the step of cooking the rice and pasta in butter and/or oil before the liquid is added. In this recipe pantry staple long grain white rice is mixed with little bits of broken spaghetti or other long skinny pasta (angel hair is another choice), and then cooked in broth or water.  Chopped onion adds flavor.  

Rice Pilaf

Rice Pilaf: Tender and full of flavor thanks to a quick saute in a bit of oil and butter before the pilaf is simmered in a light broth.

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Rice pilaf is made in many versions all around the world.  From Indian (Biryani), English (Pilau), Trinidad (Pelau), and South Asia (Pulao)…this dish appears in different guises in the Caribbean, the Balkans, Central and South Asia, Central Europe, Latin America, and on and on.  Rice is one of the most popular and readily available foods in many cultures, and toasting the rice (or pasta) first in a little fat, and then cooking it in liquid is a very common method of preparation. It adds a surprising amount of flavor.

In various parts of the world other seasonings and ingredients are added, sometimes along with bits of meat and other vegetables.  Paella is a glorified Spanish version of pilaf, made with rice meats and seafood, and vegetables.

Rice Pilaf

Why is Rice Pilaf So Good?

If sauteed and cooked pasta is delicious, and sauteed and cooked rice is delicious, then the combination can only be more delicious.  The rice and pasta are also cooked in a broth, which adds so much flavor to this dish.  If you are looking for a more delicate pilaf you can use water instead of broth, but most pilafs get much of their flavor from the broth.  Or, use a combo of half broth and half water, which is what I often do when cooking grains.  It’s kind of the best of both worlds.  

What is the Difference Between Rice and Rice Pilaf?

Plain rice is usually cooked in water and has a very mild flavor.  Rice pilaf involves the rice being cooked in a bit of fat (a combo butter and oil here)  and some aromatics (in this case onion), then the broth is added and it cooks the rest of the way through much like regular rice.  There is a whole lot more flavor in pilaf, thanks to the sauteing of the rice (and the pasta) before it is combined with the liquid.  Plus the liquid is usually broth, or diluted broth, which adds lots more flavor to the rice dish.

Rice Pilaf

What is in Rice Pilaf?

Olive Oil – to sauté the onion and provide flavor

Butter – same thing, different addition of flavor! You could use all oil or all butter if you prefer.

Onion – or other aromatics or members of the onion family like garlic, leeks, scallions, or shallots.  Other chopped vegetables can also be added for flavor and color.

Rice Pilaf

Rice – long grain rice is the most common, but you can and should play around with different types (see chart below).

Pasta – optional, but it is a commonly added element, and gives the dish varying textures, and the noodles really soak up the broth providing even richer flavor.

Broth – Use vegetable broth for a vegetarian pilaf, chicken if you are serving it with a chicken or meat dish.  You can dilute the broth with water if you want a more delicately flavored pilaf.

Make Ahead Rice Pilaf

After you finish making the pilaf, let it sit and fluff it with a fork. Then spread out the hot pilaf on a rimmed baking sheet and allow it to cool.  When cooked, transfer it to a container.  Cooling it before storing it will allow the grains and pasta to stay al dente and distinct, and not become mushy.  Reheat in the microwave or in a pot over low heat, stirring frequently (if in a pot stir every 30 seconds or so, if in the microwave stir after every 45-second burst of heating).  You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of water or broth if the pilaf seems dry.  

Rice Pilaf

(See How to Reheat Rice in the Microwave – the same simple technique works here!)

What Kind of Rice to Use in Easy Rice Pilaf

You can use any number of rices in pilaf, just make sure you adjust the water to rice ratio accordingly.  The recipe below calls for long grain white rice, which most of us have on hand, but you can also play with other types of rice.  Refer to this chart to see the cooking times for different rices!  The amount of liquid called for assumed you are using ½ cup pasta in addition to the cup of rice. Reduce the amount of liquid to 1 ¾ cups instead of 2 if you are skipping the pasta, and just making the pilaf with rice.

Liquid to Rice Ratio for Rice Pilaf

Type of RiceAmount of RiceAmount of Broth or WaterCooking / Resting Time
Long Grain White Rice (Short and Medium)1 cup2 cups18 min. / 10 min.
Grain White Rice 1 cup2 cups15 min. / 5 min.
Basmati Rice1 cup2 cups15 min. / 5 min.
Jasmine Rice1 cup2 cups15 min. / 5 min.
Texmati Rice1 cup2 cups15 min. / 5 min.
Brown Rice 1 cup 2 cups40 min. / 15 min.

What Kind of Pasta to Use in Pilaf

I like to use broken strands of long thin pasta like angel hair or vermicelli, spaghetti, or thin spaghetti.  Break your pasta into small (about 1-inch) pieces by placing them in a sealed zipper top bag and gently smacking the pasta with a rolling pin, meat pounder, or another sturdy kitchen tool (the bottom of a small pot also works great!). The pieces will be of varying sizes, but just gently pound away until the biggest pieces will still be able to blend into the rice and be scooped up with a fork.  Orzo is another classic pasta choice.  

How to Make Rice Pilaf

In a large saucepan, melt the butter along with the oil over medium-high heat.    Add the onion and cook for about 4 minutes until it softens and turns golden.  

Add the pasta and rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes until the pasta is a bit toasted, the rice is opaque, and everything smells toasty.  

Rice Pilaf

Pour in the broth and ½ teaspoon salt, bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and allow the mixture to simmer until just about all of the liquid had been absorbed and the rice and pasta are just barely cooked though, about 15 to 17 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.  

Rice Pilaf

Remove the lid and fluff the pilaf with a fork.  Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot.

Rice Pilaf

What to Serve with Rice Pilaf

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Rice Pilaf

Tender and full of flavor thanks to a quick saute in a bit of oil and butter before the pilaf is simmered in a light broth.
Yield: 6 People
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Resting Time 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Diet: Vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup 1-inch or so pieces of spaghetti , thin spaghetti, or vermicelli (angel hair pasta)
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 cups less-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt , or to taste

Directions

  • In a large saucepan, melt the butter along with the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 4 minutes until it softens and turns golden. Add the pasta and rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes until the pasta is a bit toasted, the rice is opaque, and everything smells toasty.
  • Add the broth and ½ teaspoon salt, bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and allow the mixture to simmer until just about all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice and pasta are just barely cooked though, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and fluff the pilaf with a fork. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 263kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 10mg | Sodium: 222mg | Potassium: 187mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 117IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 23mg | Iron: 1mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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