Rice Pilaf, Seven Ways

Makes 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes, plus a little time to rest

Easy, fast, and reliable, pilaf has another bonus: Cooking it in advance (slightly) is not just possible but desirable.


 2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 cups rice, preferably basmati

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 cups stock

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish


1. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter or oil in a large, deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the rice all at once, turn the heat down to medium, and stir until the rice is glossy, completely coated with butter or oil, and starting to color lightly, about 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper,
then turn the heat down to low and add the stock all at once. Stir once or twice, then cover the pan.

3. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat to the absolute minimum (if you have an electric stove, turn the heat off and let the pan sit on the burner) and let rest for another 15 to 30 minutes. Add the remaining butter or oil if you like and fluff with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning, fluff again, garnish, and serve.

Red or Green Rice Pilaf: Better known as arroz rojo or verde, these are Mexican versions: Use olive or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, and add 1 teaspoon minced garlic just after you stir in the rice. For arroz rojo, add about 1 cup chopped tomato (canned is fine; don't bother to drain) just before you add the stock; reduce the stock to 1 3/4 cups. For arroz verde, add about 1 cup roasted poblano (see page 330). Finish with parsley or cilantro and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Pilaf with Currants and Pine Nuts: Classic: Use butter. Along with the rice, add 1/4 cup currants or raisins (or other dried fruit), 2 tablespoons pine nuts (or other nuts), 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Vermicelli Pilaf: Break enough vermicelli or angel hair pasta into 1-inch lengths to make about a cup. Use oil or butter and cook this along with the rice until nicely browned. Proceed with the recipe, increasing
the stock to about 3 cups.

Mexican Rice with Vegetables: In Step 2, just after adding the rice, stir in 1/3 cup each minced carrot, celery, red or other bell pepper, and minced green beans or whole peas. Proceed with the recipe, garnishing with parsley or fresh cilantro.

Kimchi Rice: Use dark sesame oil instead of butter. Don't salt the rice in Step 2. Just after adding the rice, stir in 1/2 cup chopped kimchi. Proceed with the recipe, seasoning with soy sauce as needed and garnishing with sliced scallion.

Pilaf with Meat: A main course for sure: Before cooking the onion, put 1 tablespoon of the butter or oil in the pan over medium heat. Crumble 8 ounces ground meat (lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, beef, or a combination) and add it to the pan, along with a large pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally to break up the lumps, until the meat loses its color. Remove with a slotted spoon. When you add the liquid in Step 2, return the meat to the pan, along with a couple of bay leaves if you like, and finish the dish.

15 Ingredients to Stir into Rice Pilaf

Stir in any of the following, alone in combination, just after adding the rice.

1.  1 cup seeded and chopped tomato (drained canned is fine)
2.  1/2 to 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms, like button or shiitake caps, or reconstituted dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms
3.  1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh strong herbs, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, or sage, or up to 1 cup chopped fresh mild herbs, like parsley, basil, mint, dill, or chervil (these are best stirred in just before serving the pilaf)
4.  1 cup fresh or frozen lima beans, edamame, or chopped green beans or peas
5.  1 cup drained cooked or canned legumes, like chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lentils, or pigeon peas
6.  2 tablespoons or more mashed roasted garlic or 1 tablespoon minced raw garlic
7.  1/4 cup caramelized onions
8.  Up to 1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon or sausage or chopped ham or up to 1/2 cup other chopped cured meat like prosciutto, coppa, salami, or bresaola
9.  Up to 1 cup (about 4 ounces) cleaned chopped squid, shrimp, or firm-fleshed fish like cod, snapper, or monkfish
10.  Up to 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) flaked smoked fish, like salmon, trout, or mackerel
11.  1/2 cup or so white or red wine (let it boil a bit before adding the stock)
12.  1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts, like almonds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, or hazelnuts
13.  1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (especially good with nuts)
14.  1 tablespoon or so minced or grated lemon, lime, or orange zest
15.  1 tablespoon cumin, coriander, mustard, or fennel seeds or 1 tablespoon ground spice mixture, like curry powder, garam masala, five-spice, or any others