Perfect Pilafs

Long grain brown rice pilaf shown with vegan chickpea-sweet potato curry and vegan naan bread. This rice was made by sautéing 1 cup rice with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet for about 2 minutes. Two cups of vegetable broth were added, the skillet covered, and it was cooked over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Fresh chopped cilantro was added to serve. Photo by Rissa Miller.

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Pilafs originated in Persia, traveled
through the Middle East and the Mediterranean and made it to the New World via
the Caribbean. It is the preferred method of rice cooking in many parts of the
world. Pilafs are most popular with long-grained rice, but they can be done
with any rice, grain, or vegetable (such as mushrooms) that can stand up to
heat and liquid.

This is the basic technique:

  1. Sauté the rice (or barley, quinoa,
    mushrooms, couscous, etc.) stirring constantly, in a small amount of vegetable
    oil or vegan margarine, until all grains are coated and mildly toasted
  2. Simmer, covered, in just enough liquid
    to allow the grain to become tender.

You can add fresh or dried herbs,
minced garlic or vegetables, saffron threads, or a favorite seasoning mix. To
serve about 5 people as a side dish, use 1 cup of rice (or grains) and about 2
cups of heated water (or vegetable stock). Spray some vegetable oil in a pot,
add rice and sauté for about 2 minutes or until most of oil is absorbed and the
grains are coated. Pour the heated liquid over the rice and allow it to simmer
until it is soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Some people like to cook the rice on the
stove until it is just soupy and then bake it, covered, until it is dry and

Perfect Pilaf tips:

  1. It is better to make a pilaf in a wide
    pan than a tall pot. The surface area aids in better absorption of liquid.
  2. If using onion, dry it on a paper
    towel after its cut, so there’s not a lot of extra moisture added to the pilaf.
  3. To prevent sticking, stir as little as
    possible during the simmering phase.
  4. If you have to stir when the pilaf is
    simmering, use a fork. This incorporates more air and makes for fluffier pilaf.
  5. If adding vegetables to pilaf, cut
    them up as small as possible. This ensures consistent cooking.
  6. You can prepare pilaf up to two days
    ahead of time and just reheat as needed.
  7. If you like, you can make a “dry”
    pilaf, simply toasting the rice (or grain) in a hot pan, without the addition
    of oil. When the rice grains are toasted, add the liquid and proceed as
    described above.