Fall Cooking: Pilafs

Versatile, Quick and Satisfying

Fall Cooking: Pilafs

Versatile, Quick and Satisfying

Fall is officially here and that's a trigger for me to restock my pantry.  I know that cooler weather will soon arrive and my cooking will adjust to days with more chill and less sunlight.  That means I'll want to have on hand the ingredients for favorites that I never make in the summertime.  One of them is pilaf, a perfect dish for a city cook. 


Pilaf shows up in many different cuisines.  Indian cooks make it with basmati rice.  Italians will use a tiny pasta like tubetti.  In North African and Middle Eastern countries it is common to find pilaf made with long grained rice or bulgur wheat.  The varieties are many. 

It is often made with a grain that is first toasted in a small amount of fat -- usually olive oil or a combination of olive oil and melted butter -- and then cooked with aromatics and a large amount of liquid.  Unlike risotto, made by gradually adding small amounts of a hot liquid to dense Arborio or Carnaroli rice, pilaf needs little attention because all the liquid is added at once.  So it's not only delicious to eat -- it's easy to cook.

My favorite pilaf is the simplest to make.  I place a little olive oil and a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a large saucepan that has a cover.  Once the oil is hot and the butter is melted, I add 3/4 cup of long grain rice -- Uncle Ben's is perfect -- plus 1/3 cup of the rice-shaped pasta variously called orzo or riso, and keeping the pan over a medium-high heat, I stir the rice and orzo to toast it, cooking until the pasta pieces begin to turn golden and the stirring creates a dry, scratchy sound which is a sign that the rice is ready.  To this I add 2 1/4-cups of boxed chicken stock -- directly from the box without preheating -- and stir.  I season with a little freshly ground pepper but no salt, because there's some in the stock.  I then bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cover the pan and cook for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

I love this pilaf as a comfort food at the end of a long day and it’s a favorite companion to plain roasted chicken.  Sometimes I'll mix in leftover vegetables.  If I'm cooking for company as I did this past weekend when I made a veal roast for a friend's birthday dinner (see our recipe).  I'll make a bigger roast than I need and hope for leftovers that can be cut into chunks and added to a pilaf.  For my leftover veal I made a Quinoa Pilaf (see our recipe) and also added some thick slices of sweet Greenmarket carrots that I simply zapped in the microwave and the acidic contrast of a diced fresh tomato.   

While you can buy boxed pilaf mixes -- Near East is a popular brand -- I don't like them for two reasons:  one, they are very costly for the value of the ingredients; you can make the same amount of pilaf for a fraction of the price of that box.  And two, these mixes are always very high in salt.  It takes only minutes longer to put your own pilaf together instead of using the packaged kind and you'll save both money and blood pressure.

Pilaf also travels well which means it makes a perfect meal to take to work for lunch.

Tips for Cooking Pilafs


I know there will be the days I will get home late, tired and craving an easy dinner from an empty refrigerator.  But I'll also know that on my shelf is at least one box of chicken stock, a small box of DeCecco riso, and a big glass jar filled with Uncle Ben's rice which means dinner is always something to look forward to.

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RicePilafMiddle-EasternIndian

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