Basic Pilaf

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

In this recipe, there are two methods for the final cooking. Select the method that suits you, or experiment to see which one you like best.


Pilaf Techniques

In India and throughout the Middle East, the rice for pilaf is always rinsed and soaked. Rinsing cleans it of debris and soaking removes excess starch. The technique is to rinse the rice in two or three changes of cold water; soak it in clean water for 30 minutes or longer; and drain well. American grown basmati-type rice is very clean and does not need to be rinsed. But it also doesn’t elongate quite as much as imported basmati rice when it is cooked.

As an experiment I cooked two pilafs side by side. For both pilafs I used imported basmati rice. For one pilaf I rinsed and soaked the rice in the traditional way and in the other I didn’t rinse or soak it. In both pilafs the cooked rice was beautifully elongated, each grain dry and separate. But the rinsed and soaked rice had a lighter, less starchy texture and taste than the rice that had not been soaked.



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Kid FriendlyYes

Recipe Courseside dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturechewy, savory


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
  • ½ cup minced onion
  • 2 cups uncooked imported or domestic basmati rice (see Pilaf Techniques, below)
  • 3½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (or half broth and half water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick, optional
  • Kosher salt


  1. Melt the butter in a large wide saucepan or deep skillet. Add the onion; cook, stirring, over low heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it is coated with butter and looks tweedy, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, cinnamon stick, if using, and salt to taste; heat to a boil. Stir once.

  2. Cooking method #1: Reduce the heat; simmer, uncovered, until almost all of the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Cover and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Do not uncover. Let stand off the heat covered for 15 minutes before serving.

  3. 3. Cooking method #2: Cover and cook over low heat until all of the water is absorbed and small holes appear all over the surface of the rice, about 15 minutes. This indicates that all the water has been absorbed, Do not stir the rice. Let stand, covered, off the heat for 10 minutes before serving.


  4. Sauté ¼ cup diced carrot or parsnip with the onion. Substitute ½ cup chopped leeks or ¼ cup chopped shallots or white part of scallions for the onion.

  5. Add with the rice: ½ cup dark or golden raisins or dried currants, ½ cup diced dried apricots, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 whole cloves, 2 whole cardamom pods and/or 2 whole allspice berries, 1 slice (about ¼ inch thick) fresh ginger, 1 garlic clove, minced, 1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder, ½ to 1 teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads (can be heated first in part of the liquid), and ½ to 1 cup green beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans or other white beans, diced peeled sweet potato or winter squash, or thawed frozen lima beans.

  6. Use as part of the liquid: ½ to 1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, vegetable broth, or beef broth.

  7. Add during the last 5 minutes: ½ to 1 cup thawed frozen (or fresh) peas and/or corn, diced zucchini, or diced yellow summer squash.

  8. Top cooked pilaf with: toasted sliced or chopped natural (skin-on) almonds; chopped walnuts, pecans, pistachios, toasted and peeled hazelnuts, dry-roasted peanuts, or cashews: sunflower seeds; chopped fresh herbs (dill, mint, parsley, cilantro, or basil); or fresh lemon juice.


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