Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf Recipe

5 from 4 votes

Make this rice pilaf recipe for an easy-to-make side dish that is chock full of authentic Middle Eastern flavor. Plain basmati rice is transformed into an aromatic masterpiece with sauteed shallots, zaatar spice, sweet dried fruit, and toasted pine nuts.

overhead closeup: rice pilaf recipe with herbs and spices showing

With tender, fluffy rice, bright, tangy fruit, buttery pine nuts, and loads of warming aromatic spices, this basmati rice pilaf is a taste and texture sensation! And since this rice pilaf recipe is baked, the flavors have even more time to fully develop, leaving you with an intensely flavorful, aromatic pilaf with a light, fluffy texture. 

The countless ways rice has been used throughout the world never ceases to amaze me! This baked basmati rice pilaf is a prime example of how a simple staple food can be made into a work of culinary art with a few simple ingredients and a bit of creativity.

For more flavorful rice recipes, check out my Greek Lemon Rice, Persian Saffron Rice, and this Mediterranean Rice Pilaf.

side view: bowl of Middle Eastern basmati rice pilaf

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Basmati Rice – Soft, fluffy, and fragrant, basmati is the ideal choice for pilaf. White or brown basmati are both fine, but keep in mind brown rice will take longer to cook. 
  • Shallots – Offer the dish a sweet, delicate pungency and mild sharpness. 
  • Dried Fruit Golden raisins add a tangy sweetness while dried cherries add a bright tartness. Together they also add a delightfully chewy texture. 
  • Pine Nuts – Also called pinion nuts or pignoli, these soft, buttery morsels are actually the edible part of pine trees. Look for them with the other nuts or substitute chopped cashews for a more cost-friendly option. 
  • Zaatar Spice – A tasty blend of thyme, cumin, and sumac with toasted sesame seeds and salt. Look for a blend in the spice aisle or give my easy DIY version a shot.

Tip From Kevin

What makes a pilaf?

It’s a flavorful rice dish prepared by sautéing rice in oil or butter, often with aromatic spices, before adding liquid (usually broth or water) and simmering until the rice is cooked and infused with the flavors. Ingredients like vegetables, meats, fruit, nuts and herbs are commonly incorporated for added taste and texture.

overhead: bowls of golden raisins, dried cherries, za'atar spice and pine nuts next to whole, 3unpeele d shallots

How to Make Rice Pilaf Recipe

  1. Prepare the Oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and have a large casserole dish or Dutch oven ready. 
  2. Bake the Shallots. Trim the shallots, cut them into thin slices, and scatter them on the bottom of the casserole dish or Dutch oven. Break the cinnamon stick into two pieces and add it to the pan. Drizzle oil over the top and place the dish in the oven to bake for 15 minutes. 
  1. Heat the Stock. Add the water or chicken stock to a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Alternatively, you can heat it in the microwave for 3 minutes. 
  2. Combine All Ingredients. Take the casserole dish out of the oven and add in the raisins, cherries, pine nuts, zaatar mix, salt, pepper, and rice. With care, pour the hot water or chicken stock over the top and stir gently to mix. Use foil or a lid to tightly cover and seal. 
  1. Bake the Pilaf. Put the basmati rice pilaf back in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove from the oven and leave covered for at least 10 minutes on the counter. 
  2. Fluff & Serve. Remove the lid or foil from the dish. Use a fork to fluff the rice, stir in the chopped parsley, and serve immediately.
overhead: oven baked basmati rice pilaf with dried cherries, golden raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon sticks, with sprinkling of fresh parsley

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a rice pilaf recipe different?

The main differences between regular rice and a rice pilaf are the cooking methods and included ingredients. Regular rice is typically boiled in water, uncovered, without any added spices or ingredients. 

A rice pilaf recipe, on the other hand, is crafted to be infused with flavor. Pilafs are cooked in a blend of chicken broth and highly aromatic spices.  A variety of different dried fruits, seeds, nuts, herbs, or meat can be included. 

All the pilaf ingredients are cooked together in a covered cooking vessel to trap aromatics and maximize flavor. This can be done on the stovetop, in a Dutch oven, or in the oven like this baked basmati pilaf.

What pairs well with basmati rice pilaf?

This baked basmati pilaf is the perfect side dish for adding a major dose of flavor to any meal. Here are a few of my top picks to get you started:

Lebanese Kafta (Beef or Lamb)
Chicken Koobideh or Persian Chicken Kabob
Persian Meatballs or Fish Kofta Meatballs
Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Dates
Pomegranate Chicken or Chicken with Orange and Cherries

Why is my rice pilaf mushy?

First of all, what type of rice did you use? While there are a few long-grain rice varieties that will work in place of basmati for this recipe, all rice is not created equal. Avoid medium to short grain rices like jasmine or arborio as they are sure to gum up your pilaf. 

While it isn’t required, you might want to give the rice a rinse before cooking it. The baking method used in this recipe should help keep the grains fluffy and separated, but it never hurts to rinse a little extra starch away. 

Lastly, be sure to accurately measure your cooking liquid and set a timer on the oven. Too much liquid and/or too much time cooking are sure to cause issues.

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overhead: Middle Eastern rice pilaf recipe in casserole dish and white bowl
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close up of herbs and spices in baked basmati rice

Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf Recipe

5 from 4 votes
This Middle Eastern rice pilaf recipe is an easy-to-make, baked dish filled with fluffy rice, dried fruit, pine nuts, and zesty zaatar spice.
Servings: 6
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Resting Time: 10 minutes
Total: 50 minutes



  • Preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Trim and cut shallots into thin slices. Scatter on bottom of large casserole dish or Dutch oven. 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, or heat in microwave for 3 minutes.
  • Remove pan from oven. Add the raisins, cherries, pine nuts, zaatar, salt, pepper and rice. Carefully pour the hot chicken stock or water over, gently stirring to mix. Cover tightly with lid or foil to seal.
  • Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand, covered for 10 minutes. Remove lid or foil, stir in chopped parsley, fluff the rice and serve immediately.



Calories: 361kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 343mg | Potassium: 260mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 422IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 47mg | Iron: 2mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): Middle Eastern baked rice pilaf dish


I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I did not have zatar and I added some extra veggies (peas, sweet corn, celery and peppers) to the onions. It was truly excellent and everyone enjoyed it.

  2. 5 stars
    will be making this soon with few subs i never had middle eastern food before will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya