Simple Rice Pilaf

Truth be told, I wish every recipe I post could be as awe-inspiring as this or this or this.

But quite simply, sometimes, while the every day side dishes of the world (like this rice pilaf) aren’t drool-worthy or even comment-worthy, they sure find their place in dinnertime rotations and are even more essential than the crazy popular dishes that go viral. I love having a go-to rice pilaf recipe because it is the perfect accompaniment to so many entrees. Here are a few we serve this classic rice pilaf with:

Grilled Island Chicken
Rosemary Chicken
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
Honey Roast Chicken
Baked Southwest Egg Rolls
Chicken or Beef Kebabs
Chicken Fajitas
Classic Chicken Cordon Bleu or the Easy Version
Chicken Pillows
Glazed Mini Meatloaves (when I’m not in the mood for potatoes)
Brown Sugar Spiced Pork Loin
Chili Rubbed Pork with Apricot Glaze
Grilled Pork Chops
Oven Baked Ribs
Smothered Pork Chops

Phew! After a list like that, it should be pretty obvious that this delicious, flavorful and easy rice pilaf most definitely has its place in the world.

Simple Rice Pilaf

One Year Ago: Sparkling Orange Jello {Homemade}
Two Years Ago: Italian Meatball Subs
Three Years Ago: Classic Baked Ziti

Simple Rice Pilaf

Yield: Serves 4

Simple Rice Pilaf


  • 1 1/2 cups basmati or long-grain rice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 ounces spaghetti or vermicelli, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • Ground black pepper


  1. Place the rice in a medium bowl and add enough water to cover by 2 inches; using your hands, gently swish grains to release excess starch. Carefully pour off the water, leaving rice in bowl. Repeat four to five times, until water runs almost clear. Using a colander or fine mesh strainer, drain water from rice and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, cumin and coriander and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the rinsed and drained rice and the broken, uncooked noodles. Cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in the water and salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 16-18 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, take off the lid and place a kitchen towel folded in half over saucepan; replace the lid. Let the rice stand 10 minutes; fluff with a fork and serve.

Recipe Source: adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

29 Responses to Simple Rice Pilaf

  1. Jen says:

    How do you usually break the spaghetti noodles up? With a knife? By hand?

  2. Cindi says:

    The flavor of this is really good. Next time I’ll add the vermicelli first and brown it more. It definitely serves more than 4


  3. Wilda says:

    Mel, parboiled rice is instant rice. The texture is different and cooking time is very quick. It has very few nutrients and will not behave the same way regular rice will in a recipe.

  4. Katie says:

    I had to try this. With you and Cooks Illustrated backing it, it had to be amazing. Even still, I wasn’t expecting much. Every rice pilaf recipe I’ve tried had chicken broth/bullion, and it was the main flavor. I figured if you cut that out, and added just a couple spices and water, there was no way it was going to have enough flavor. Boy was I wrong! It was so good. It is a perfect side dish. It is simple and delicious. This is a keep forever, make all the time, recipe.

  5. Nathalie says:

    Very good! Will def. make again! πŸ™‚

  6. Karen says:

    Made this recently and really enjoyed it, as did the kids. Very tasty and easy! Freezes and reheats well too. Thanks!

  7. d says:

    I tried this tonight but used brown rice. I had to add another cup or so of water and cook 45 minutes to get the rice fully cooked but loved it. Very tasty. Thanks for posting.

  8. ashley says:

    Hey Mel, I am a daily follower of your blog and just love it! I cook recipes from here weekly! I just saw that your having a baby girl from the sisterscafe (which I found through you). Congratulations! And thanks for all of the great recipes!

  9. Mel says:

    Beetree – the noodles might be on the softer side cooking them with rice that needs longer cooking time but it’s worth a try. Good luck!

    Sunni – you could definitely try it, just check the box to see the cooking time on orzo to make sure it will have time to cook through. Also, you may need to adjust the liquid a bit, I’m thinking add maybe 1/4 cup more as the orzo is thicker and will absorb more water. But then again, I haven’t tried it so that’s just a guess.

  10. Chris says:

    I enjoy having rice pilaf. We eat a LOT of rice in our house, but mostly just plain, steamed rice, so when I make rice pilaf it always seems kinda special. I wanted to tell you though, that in my local grocery store, I can get short vermicelli noodles – just like the kind you see in dry packets of chicken noodle soup) in the Mexican section of the grocery store (wagon wheels and a couple other interesting pasta shapes too), also orzo pasta works great in pilaf.
    Always love your posts – I think I pin more of your recipes than any other!

  11. Debra Kapellakis says:

    Yummy! I love rice!

  12. kira says:

    This rice looks great, but what I really wanted to tell you is how delicious your oreo cheesecakes bites were. And so beautiful. I was surprised how easy they really were. We had them for my husbands birthday yesterday and they were a hit.!! Whether it is meal time or party time I find what i need and trust everything you make. Thank you for sharing your talent. Can’t wait to hear about your little girl. Good luck.

  13. Sunni says:

    Hey Mel, do you think that orzo could be used for the pasta? I’m just thinking of the mess that I would make breaking up spaghetti noodles. Thanks!

  14. STEFANIE says:

    I just saw on another blog, you’re having a girl. Congratulations! We will all be expecting pictures πŸ™‚

  15. Beetree says:

    Yum- I love rice pilaf, but don’t ever buy the boxes of it. I never thought of making it from scratch for some reason. This looks so good! Do you think if I use brown basmati it will ruin the texture of the pasta bits by over-cooking them?

  16. As much as I love seeing over kill desserts and fancy appetizers, this is real life. When it comes to dinner WE all need quick affordable recipes. I have a recipe similar to this that I serve regularly (read weekly) with lemon peppered chicken and roasted broccoli. Simple, yet tried and true!

  17. Cammee says:

    I love rice pilaf! I’m the one that eats all the rice pilaf off the plate when everyone is done with their halibut. I can’t wait to try this one.

  18. Kristin says:

    It’s comment-worthy. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  19. Stacie D. says:

    Perfect! My sister-in-law is allergic to potatoes (I know!!), and when they visited recently, I was looking for a great rice pilaf to have as a side. I know yours will be great!

  20. Mel says:

    Teresa – I’m not really familiar with parboiled rice, I have to confess. But from what I know, I think you need a bit more water-to-rice ratio for parboiled. I think it’s something like 1 cup of rice to 2 1/4 cups water. So you may want to adjust the liquid measurements accordingly (but you’ll probably know that better if you are used to cooking with it a lot). Good luck!

  21. This looks so delicious, Mel! I’ve been searching for a good rice pilaf for a while now and would love to try yours. Thanks for sharing this perfect, scrumptious side dish!

  22. alina says:

    This was delicious!! I used cumin seeds that my uncle brought from another country instead of the ground cumin, and the smell and taste were out of this world!

  23. Teresa says:

    question Mel, we tend to only have parboiled rice in the house. How will that change the recipe? Or will it?

  24. I love a good rice pilaf! πŸ™‚

  25. Allyson says:

    I was just thinking the other day that I needed a homemade rice pilaf recipe … reminiscent of years ago when I used to turn to Rice-a-Roni. I’m sure this will taste even better! Thanks!

  26. AnnetteBrunette says:

    Ooh this looks good. I recently tried a rice pilaf dish that was very similar except that it called for a LOT bouillon cubes which turned me off of making it again even though it was delicious. I am excited to try this and see if it is as good without the crazy amount of added salt.

  27. Kim in MD says:

    This looks delicious, Mel! I agree that everyone needs a great go-to side dish. My favorite ’till now is your baked rice. Not only is it delicious, but it’s so easy. I’ll let you know if this rice pilaf tops that one!

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