How to Make Rice Pilaf

Did you know that some parts of the world are currently experiencing food crises? A perfect storm of high energy prices, drought (possibly caused by climate change), increasing demand in countries like China and India, and usage of grains for biofuels instead of food is contributing to shortages of key staples like wheat, corn and rice. This has led to food riots in Haiti and Egypt. But food shortages also hit us close to home, as we see higher prices in the grocery store and some stores like Costco are even limiting how much rice customers can buy.

If rice is a staple in your diet, as it is for billions of people, this all adds up to some very bad news. In our household, we don’t eat rice very much, for the very specific reason that there are only two of us and I always have to make at least 5 servings of rice. It is very difficult to cut down the proportions of rice and water and still end up with well-cooked rice. So if we have to cut it out, we probably won’t miss it as much as we would bread or pasta, but wheat products are also getting more expensive. I guess we can always eat potatoes.

When I do make rice, however, I prefer making it pilaf-style. Rice pilaf originated in the Middle East but is the standard way to cook rice in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines as well. Once learned, the pilaf method is a fairly foolproof way of achieving fluffy, moist rice, which is how I like it. Also, rice pilaf is a versatile recipe that can be augmented with all kinds of add-ins.

Rice pilaf with roasted zucchini and red peppers.

The important thing when cooking pilaf is to achieve the right proportion of rice and cooking liquid, usually water or chicken stock. I have tried many pilaf recipes, and I have had the best results with using 1½ cups of liquid per 1 cup of rice. This is not the same as the directions on the box, by the way. Technically, this makes 5 servings, although as a side dish, you can probably serve 6-8, depending on how much your guests like rice.

Here is the method:

Rice Pilaf

Time to make: ~30 minutes for white rice; 1 hour for brown rice
Yields: 5-6 servings

What you need:

  • 2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 sm. onion, diced
  • 1½ cups water, chicken stock or other cooking liquid
  • 1 cup rice
  1. Heat the oil or butter over medium.
  2. Saute the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and saute until coated in the fat and translucent, 1 minute.
  4. Add the liquid, stir and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and cover tightly.
  6. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated, 15-18 minutes for white rice; brown rice takes quite a bit longer to cook, up to 45 minutes.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and fluff the rice with a fork; let the pot stand, covered, another 10 minutes.

Notes: Make pilaf more interesting. Here are some ideas. Add ground spices with the rice and stir to coat the grains. Add canned tomatoes and cook with the tomato liquid or use other liquids to vary the flavors. Stir in fresh herbs, grated cheese or cooked vegetables during the standing time. Make it a meal by mixing with cooked meat.

What do you do with leftover rice? I like to make fried rice for breakfast or lunch the next day.

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4 thoughts on “How to Make Rice Pilaf

  1. Hoppin’ John « Simply Cooking 11 January 2009 at 11:29 am

    […] 1½ cups rice, cooked (I prefer the pilaf method) […]

  2. […] Grains: boil or pilaf […]

  3. reprovo 30 September 2010 at 6:26 am

    I just add the oil or butter when I’m done. It will cook faster and taste better

  4. reprovo 30 September 2010 at 6:27 am

    Don’t need to saute the rice

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