Easy Rice Pilaf That's A Perfect Side Dish

There are two ways to think of rice pilaf: as a side, and as a base. As a side, rice pilaf is perfectly at home on the weeknight dinner table or as part of a fancy full holiday spread. It works well with everything from chicken curry to roast beef, to tofu, to traditional turkey. As a base, you can load up this pilaf with roasted veggies, grilled meats, chickpeas, or really anything that sounds great to make a complete meal in a single dish.

For this recipe, we're thinking of rice pilaf "as a perfect side dish," says chef, food writer, and registered dietician Kristen Carli of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. This dish is so easy to make that it's actually pretty difficult to get wrong. "I love using frozen peas and carrots here," Carli says, "because it is super easy and affordable." Turns out that frozen vegetables are also pretty healthy, at least compared to the canned ones. 

You can keep the ingredients on hand at all times and whip the pilaf up in all of 40 or so minutes, with only about 10 or 15 minutes of that time hands-on. Or, Carli adds, "you can substitute brown rice if you want to use a whole grain, just be sure to cook for 25 minutes instead of 15."

Now, if you want to dress the pilaf up until a full meal, that might take a few minutes more work, but that's a story for another day. For now, let's get on to this easy and satisfying dish.

Gather your ingredients for rice pilaf

When it comes to dishes like rice pilaf, don't get stingy with the seasonings. This isn't the time to skip the cumin or the paprika. Or the onion. Or the rice, just in case you need a reminder. But overall, you can very much think of this recipe as a base or a jumping-off point that holds a myriad of possibilities. Don't like peas? Then simply take the peas out of the recipe. Don't like carrots? Same story. (But who doesn't like carrots?) Want to add celery or chopped leeks or scallions? Do it! But for a classic take on rice pilaf, or if you're trying out this dish for the very first time, stick with this recipe as is.

As a base, you'll need 1 1/2 cups of long-grain white rice plus water as per the directions of your package of rice. You'll also need 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 yellow onion, diced, 12 ounces of frozen carrots and peas (about 1 1/2 cups), thawed, 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground paprika, and, of course, salt and pepper to taste.

Cook your rice

Time for a little honesty. If you don't cook your rice just right, you're going to end up with a pretty poor rice dish. The good news is, this is the toughest step, and it's really not that hard after all. Just take the time to thoroughly rinse the rice before you use it. Also, be sure to measure out the water needed to cook it precisely, always according to the packaging on the rice you are using. After all, manufacturers took the time to include that info for good reason!

Fill a large saucepan with the correct amount of water (and maybe a pinch or two of salt for extra flavor) and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 15 minutes, then drain and set the cooked rice aside. If you care to do so, you can actually swap out the specific type of rice, though remember that there are differences between white and brown rice. "You can substitute brown rice if you want to use a whole grain," says Carli. "Just be sure to cook for 25 minutes instead of 15."

Cook the onion and veggies for rice pilaf

Like so many wonderful recipes out there, from the most complex to the simplest, the flavor in this one starts with cooking some diced onions. A perfectly sauteed onion can be a beautiful thing all on its own, and it will certainly add great flavor to rice pilaf.

While the rice is boiling away, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and cook it for about 5 minutes, until it grows tender, a little more translucent, and fragrant. Now toss in the veggies and stir until everything is heated through, which will take about another 5 minutes. If you've forgotten to thaw your vegetables, don't worry. You can simply add the frozen ones, though give them a couple of extra minutes to warm through.

To complete the rice pilaf, season the veggies and stir in the rice

Next, add cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper to the vegetables. If you want even more savory zest, Kristen Carli says "you can change this dish up by including oregano, garlic powder, and thyme or a combination of cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder for a few other varieties" of flavor. But as a base blend, salt and pepper, paprika, and cumin will serve quite well. 

Sprinkle in the spices and stir, and then add rice to the vegetable mixture. Stir well to combine everything over low heat, and season to taste, then serve.

If you do have any extra pilaf leftover, Carli says to "store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days." Using this recipe, however, probably means that everyone will scarf it up before you hit that freshness deadline.

Easy Rice Pilaf That's A Perfect Side Dish
5 from 17 ratings
This easy and nutritious rice pilaf is a great way to debut a side that's sure to please everyone. It's also easy to customize, making it your new favorite.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
30
minutes
Servings
4
servings
rice pilaf
Total time: 45 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 12 oz frozen carrots & peas
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground paprika
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
Directions
  1. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add frozen veggies and stir until heated through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper to vegetables.
  4. Add rice to the vegetable mixture. Stir to combine. Season to taste.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 406
Total Fat 7.6 g
Saturated Fat 1.1 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 73.5 g
Dietary Fiber 5.0 g
Total Sugars 6.2 g
Sodium 457.5 mg
Protein 9.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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