Fluffy basmati rice pilaf is oven baked with dried fruit, pine nuts and zaatar. Make this easy Middle Eastern recipe for a flavorful side dish!
Baked rice vs stove top rice
Many rice pilaf recipes call for a stove top cooking method. While stove top recipes are quick and easy to prepare, the dish itself often falls short on flavor. One reason may be the short cooking time.
After all, white rice is pretty bland to begin with, and it can take a while to impart flavor into the grains.
In comparison, oven baked rice pilaf cooks at a higher temperature, and for a longer time. Higher heat helps, and the longer cook time means the rice has more time to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients.
Even then, you need seasonings or other ingredients to help bring life to the dish. Using an aromatic variety of rice like basmati makes a big difference.
So, aside from its aroma, how is basmati rice different from other types of rice?
Well, basmati rice has more nutrients!
As you may already know, brown rice - where the hull, bran, and endosperm of the grains are left intact - contains more fiber and nutrients than regular white rice.
What you may not know is that brown basmati rice has about 20% more fiber than other varieties of brown rice.
Delicious, aromatic, and a bit healthier? Yes, please!
Baked Basmati Rice Pilaf
Ingredients you'll need:
- Long grain basmati rice- Whether you use white or brown basmati is up to you. Even another long grain rice will be fine. Avoid short grain rice, as it's higher in starch and has a tendency to be too sticky for a good pilaf.
- Dried fruit- Cherries add tartness while golden raisins add sweetness; a perfect pair!
- Shallots- Unlike their spicier cousins, onion and garlic, shallots have a milder, delicate, sweet flavor. They offer sharpness, but without overpowering the dish like onions can.
- Pine nuts- Also known as pignoli, these edible seeds of pine trees are soft, with an almost buttery flavor. They can be pricey (the harvesting is labor intensive) though. The best substitute for pine nuts is finely chopped cashews.
- Seasonings- Warm spices compliment the sweet flavors of the dried fruit. Just a stick of cinnamon, some sea salt, black pepper, and zaatar spice.
- Cooking liquid- Chicken or vegetable stock, or if you prefer, water.
WANT EXTRA FLAVOR FROM YOUR SPICES?
If you buy ground spices, be sure to store them in a dry location, and replace them every 4-6 months.
Even better, save money and get better flavor by making fresh spice blends at home! Make a batch of zaatar spice to use in the basmati rice pilaf. Then, use it to make za'atar spiced croutons for this African salad.
How to Make Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf
- Soften the shallots.
Just like when you make a pilaf on the stove, you have to soften the vegetables before adding the rice and cooking liquid.
Rather than sauteing the shallot in a sauce with oil, you'll drizzle the oil over the shallots, then bake them in the oven for a few minutes.
- Warm the cooking liquid.
While the shallots are cooking, heat up your cooking liquid. Chicken or vegetable stock, or if you prefer, water. You don't have to bring it to a boil; a simmer is fine.
- Add the seasonings, dried fruit, pine nuts and cooking liquid to the baking dish.
Place the seasonings into the pan first, followed by the fruit and nuts. Then, gently pour stock over everything in the casserole dish and stir to combine.
- Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, then bake.
For oven baked rice pilaf to cook, it needs moisture from the stock. Covering the dish tightly with aluminum foil keeps the moisture inside.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve!
FAQ: Commonly Asked Questions
When you cook rice on the stove top, rinsing away some of the starch helps prevent it from becoming sticky.
One of the nice things about making oven baked rice is that the grains absorb the liquid more slowly. This helps prevent it from being sticky, so you really don't need to rinse it first.
If you make rice on the stove top and it comes out sticky, you can use your oven to dry it out!
Just spread the sticky rice into a single layer on a baking sheet. Then, place it into a preheated 325°F. oven and let it cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
Baked Basmati Rice Pilaf
- 4 large shallots
- 1 stick cinnamon
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup dried cherries
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon zaatar spice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cups basmati rice
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock or water
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Trim and cut shallots into ¼ inch rings. Scatter on bottom of large casserole dish (8x12"). Break the cinnamon stick into two pieces and add to the pan. Drizzle the oil over and bake for 15 minutes.
- Bring the chicken stock or water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Remove pan from oven. Add the raisins, cherries, pine nuts, zaatar, salt, pepper and rice. Carefully pour the chicken stock or water over, gently stirring to mix. Cover tightly with foil to seal.
- Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand covered for 10 minutes. Remove foil, stir in chopped parsley, fluff the rice and serve immediately.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.