Rice Pilaf, Nine Ways

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 30 minutes, plus a little time to rest

Only a tiny bit more complicated than plain rice, but with enormous potential, as you’ll see. Note that not only may this be made in advance, it should be made (slightly) in advance.

2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

11/2 cups rice, preferably basmati

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

21/2 cups vegetable stock, warmed

Minced parsley leaves for garnish

Put 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.

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

Cook for about 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. 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. Check the seasoning, 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 stock; reduce the stock to 13/4 cups. For Arroz Verde, add about 1 cup peeled roasted poblano. Finish with chopped parsley or fresh cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Pilaf with Currants and Pine Nuts. The Middle Eastern classic: Use butter unless you object. Along with the rice, add 1/4 cup currants or raisins, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Pilaf with Fruit and Nuts. Similar to the preceding variation, but a little more unusual: Use butter unless you object. Along with the rice, add 1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds. When the rice is ready, stir in 2 tablespoons raisins, 3 or 4 each chopped dried apricots and pitted prunes (or use whatever dried fruit you like), and a tablespoon of honey.

Pilaf with Chickpeas, Peas, Limas, or other Beans. Just before adding the stock, stir in 1 cup cooked chickpeas, raw green peas (frozen are okay, and you need not defrost first), fresh or frozen limas or edamame beans, or drained cooked or canned (or frozen) pigeon peas or black-eyed peas. Season with 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, if available, and a bay leaf.

Vermicelli Pilaf. Related to Bulgur Pilaf with Vermicelli and, though not quite as common or classic, really great: 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.

Pilaf with Spinach or Other Greens. Add 2 cups trimmed, carefully washed, and chopped spinach, chard, sorrel, or beet greens along with the onion. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic just after you stir in the rice, then proceed with the recipe, reducing the liquid by about 1/4 cup.

Mexican Rice with Vegetables. Often (and not badly) made with frozen vegetables: In Step 2, just after adding the rice, stir in 1/3 cup each peeled and minced carrot, celery, red or other bell pepper, and trimmed and minced green beans or whole peas. Proceed with the recipe, garnishing with parsley or fresh cilantro.

Kimchi Rice. Use dark sesame oil. Don’t salt the rice in Step 1. 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.