Rice Pilaf

Trying to get a recipe out of my mother is like pulling teeth. Mom doesn’t follow recipes. After 50 years of cooking for her family she doesn’t need to. She cooks instinctively, pulling ingredients from what we have on hand, making substitutions or additions as she sees fit. Taste testing here and there for a little more of this or that. To get a recipe out of her I have to watch her make something, take copious notes, and ask a lot of questions. For each seemingly innocuous question, there can be a dissertation’s worth of answers. “Well, Adele Davis did it this one way, Diane Kennedy did it this other way, and I do it this way because (fill in the blank… my pot is too big, I’m using an electric range, we don’t have any fresh cilantro.. etc. etc.)” My mother is never one to give someone the time when a thorough explanation of how the watch works and how they made clocks in China 2000 years ago will do. (Mom is a treasure trove of knowledge and I will never catch up to her, even if I cook every day for the next 40 years.)

Here is how my mother makes her rice pilaf. It isn’t a precise recipe because much depends on the type of rice and the type and amount of stock you have. But then again, rice pilaf is one of those foundation dishes that you can dress up in many different ways.

Rice Pilaf Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8.


  • 2 cups white rice (preferably long grain)
  • 2 teaspoons of chicken fat or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion - green onion (scallions) or yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • Up to 4 cups of stock (amount depends on the type of rice you are using), either chicken stock or vegetable stock for vegetarian option, or a mix of water and stock*
  • 2 teaspoons of seasoned salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

*For gluten-free version, use gluten-free stock.


1 Look at the cooking instructions for your rice. If your rice calls for 2 cups of water for every cup of rice then you will need a total of 4 cups of liquid. If your rice calls for 1 2/3 cups of water for every cup of rice, you will need a total of 3 1/3 cups of liquid.

You want to cook the rice in a liquid that is primarily stock - chicken stock or vegetable stock. Up to half of the liquid can be plain water, but at least half of the needed liquid should be stock. Homemade stock is the best, of course, and will make a big difference in the quality of the resulting pilaf.

Heat the measured amount of stock needed in a saucepan, at least 2-qt sized.

rice-pilaf-1.jpg rice-pilaf-2.jpg
2 While the stock is heating, heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the chicken fat (or oil), melting it so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add the uncooked rice and brown the rice, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and celery and cook a few minutes longer, until the onions begin to soften.

3 If you are using canned or boxed broth, be careful of how much seasoning you add. We usually use homemade, unsalted chicken stock, so we add 2 teaspoons of Vegesal (can use plain salt or other seasoned salt) along with ground pepper and a dash of cayenne. If you are starting with seasoned broth, you may only need to add a teaspoon of Vegesal or salt. Taste test the broth/stock. It can be a little on the salty side because the rice will absorb a lot of the salt.

rice-pilaf-3.jpg4 Carefully empty the slightly browned rice into the saucepan with the stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for as long as the instructions say on your package of rice. Usually between 15 to 25 minutes. Use a timer. After the set amount of cooking time, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered. At no point during the cooking of the rice should you uncover the pan.

Note that you could also pour the stock into the pan with the rice, cover and cook. This is the more usual way to make pilaf. We have found however more consistent results by pouring the rice into the saucepan of stock.

Fluff with a fork to serve. Stir in chopped parsley. You can also mix in heated peas, toasted almonds, or raisins to the pilaf to make it more interesting.

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  1. Lady Amalthea

    This sounds very good and simple! My mom cooks the same way most of the time–no recipe, just throwing together what she knows intuitively will work. I wish I could do the same.

  2. Michelle

    Toasted slivered almonds (small slivers) make a good addition. FROZEN baby peas added near the end of cooking time (just to heat them through) are also great (better texture than boiled mushy peas). As you said, pilaf can be dressed up many ways, and is good to use up small amounts of leftover veggies or even meat chopped fine. I adjust the seasonings by adding a little of whatever was put in my main dish.

  3. Rebecca

    Toasted almonds sounds nice, I always added toasted chopped pine nuts. The pine nuts add a very nice nutty, sweet taste to the rice.

  4. sqrl

    My Grandmom is the same way. And of course she is an amazing cook. One day I’ll be like her. Always loving new vegatarian recipes. Thanks

  5. Glutton Cat

    I haven’t tried the rice with celery or green onion. I usually use noodle, vermicelli or baby carrots. Sometimes I add cooked chickpeas.

    I will use the cellery and green onion next time I cook rice.

  6. Nicole

    This recipe was AMAZING! My parents and fiance LOVED it! I added broken bits of multi-grain spaghetti and it was a wonderful contrast. Delicious! Your mom is a cooking genius! ^_^

  7. Beverly

    My Armenian grandmother taught me how to make pilaf when I was only 5. She didn’t use a recipe either. She used butter as her fat to brown broken, coiled vermicelli, then put the rice in and stirred until it turned white. Added chicken stock and simmered 20 minutes. It turned out perfect every time. On special occasions, like holidays, she would add slivered almonds or peas. At 40, I’m more like my grandmother than ever. I rarely use a recipe for anything anymore. Everything is a pinch of this and a dash of that. My grandmother was obviously where I got my love of cooking!

  8. Lisa

    When I moved away from home at age 19, this was one of the first recipes I learned to make from my brand-new Betty Crocker cookbook. After two or three times, I got a little overconfident and learned that rice will catch fire if overheated! Some things about cooking can only be learned the hard way…

  9. Bee

    I make a variation on this that uses the rice and onions (same way of cooking, etc.), but then substitutes canned tomatoes (and their liquid) for the chicken stock. I flavor it with cumin, chili, etc. It’s a great side dish for a lot of things, but I find it works really well with enchiladas.

  10. Sheila Colson-Pope

    I tried this recipe and it was absolutely delicous.

  11. Lisa

    Hi Elise:

    I’m making this as we speak!! I just want to say a big thanks to you and your mom! Seriously, I’ve made SO many meals from your site (not to mention that blending in a mason jar is my new most very favorite thing in the world). My stomach thanks you.


  12. ramoncito yacab

    It’s quite a simple recipe, but with a lot of taste.

  13. Melissa

    I’ve made this before and its absolutly delicous, just so goood. I’m so excited for making it again for christmas eve. Thank you so much for posting this. I bet it’ll please everyone :)

  14. Neil Pragnell

    Well done Mom! This pilaf is a ripper! I make a lot of rice dishes and was a little skeptical of the celery but it works brilliantly. I made it for friends 2 nights ago and I loved it. When something you make yourself tastes outstanding it must be good. Thank you so much.

  15. Bill

    For stock, I often use the liquid from canned mushrooms, which I save in a container in the freezer until I have enough for batch. Sometimes I also include the mushrooms, sometimes I don’t.

  16. Holly

    The rice was so fluffy and FLAVOURSOME! I made this to pair with a Moroccan chicken recipe (on this website) and it was perfect. I think my partner loved the rice more.. ha ha.

  17. Gaby

    I was also skeptical of the celery but it was so perfect! 1st time making pilaf. I used a Mixed Rice package (brown & wild combo) and it worked brilliantly. I also used olive oil/ butter combo and yellow onion. Thanks for sharing this method and thanks to your momma!

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