Homemade is Better—Rice Pilaf

To expand my repertoire, I’ve been trying to make more dishes that aren’t a main.  On my countdown to 100 recipes, I realized that I make a lot of main course dishes and not a lot of the other stuff.  While I’ll try to look at sides more often, I’ll still include some mains in this column.  I also need to return to my sauces and finish writing about the last sauce I hope to help you with.

Chances are you’ve had at least one version of pilaf in your life.  Many countries around the world use this method of rice preparation.  Pilaf, which is a North American spelling, is simply a rice dish prepared with spices, vegetables, and stock.  In some countries, it also includes meats.  When I think of pilaf, I think of middle eastern rice dishes.  Probably because they are usually spiced with cinnamon and clove, they might have raisins and a sweet taste.  But the pilaf I make is savoury.  Some relatives to pilaf that you might know would be paella and biryani.

While I think pilaf is more often a rice dish, it doesn’t have to be.  Some countries also use bulgur wheat or orzo, which is more of a pasta than rice.  Equally, many different places use different types of rice.  While most countries prefer basmati rice, some also use arborio rice (used in risotto).  Much of my culinary training was in French cuisine, and when we made pilaf, our cookbook simply used long-grain rice.  At home, I prefer to use basmati for everything, and I like the fragrance and the taste compared to other long-grain rice.

In addition to basmati rice, I also use chicken stock.  While you can use vegetable and beef stock, I find that chicken stock has a neutral enough flavour that it adds to and complements the rice rather than overpowering it.  I also use onions and carrots, but you can use various vegetables in a pilaf.  For example, you can use green pepper, green onions, celery, mushrooms, olives, peas, and even spinach.  The sky is the limit on what you can add to your pilaf.  If you want to go international, many websites will give you ideas.  Maybe you came to Canada from another country, and you have your variation, make sure you share it with people and let us all learn from you.

The key to making a good pilaf is time, followed by a few very simple steps.  If you are using long-grain rice, make sure you give it a good rinse before cooking it.  Add butter to a cold pan, and warm it up.  Start cooking onions and garlic first with the butter.  Then add the rice and toast it a little bit.  You are trying to get the butter to coat the rice as well, though.  This makes sure the rice is not sticky.  Once you’ve followed these steps, then the rest is super easy.

Rice Pilaf


1/2 cup onion small diced
1/4 cup carrot small diced
1/4 cup celery small diced
1 cup Basmati long grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp butter

  • Measure and rinse rice.
  • In a medium-sized pot, add the butter and onions.
  • Sauté the onions until they start to turn translucent.
  • Add the rice to the pot and continue to stir until all the rice is covered with the butter, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and celery and stir for another minute.
  • Add 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp of pepper.
  • Add the chicken stock and stir.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Continue to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and none remains in the bottom of the pot.
  • Cover the pot and allow the pilaf to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Taste before serving, and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • Serve and enjoy!