Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onion, Orange, Cherry & Pistachio

Tested & Perfected Recipes

Sometimes it’s nice to make a super-simple entree and focus on making your side dishes special instead. This exotic rice pilaf, modestly adapted from chef Ris Lacoste’s recipe in Fine Cooking, is a delicious way to jazz up basic pan-seared salmon or roast chicken. It’s easy to make; just be sure to allow time to caramelize the onions. The key is to cook them low and slow so that they turn a rich caramel color without a touch of burning.

how to make rice pilaf

To begin, slice two of the onions into half-moons, and dice the remaining onion.

how to make rice pilaf

Set a liquid measuring cup with about 1/2 cup of water next to the stove. In a 12-inch skillet (preferably not nonstick), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are meltingly tender and a rich, deep caramel color, 20 to 25 minutes.

how to make rice pilaf

To help the caramelization process along and prevent the onions from burning, deglaze the pan every so often with a few tablespoons of the water—but wait to do this until you see a brown film forming on the bottom of the pan. I usually use about 1/2 cup of water total, but you may need a bit more or less.

how to make rice pilaf

Add the cumin and cinnamon and stir well. Reduce the heat to low and cook one minute more, stirring occasionally, to allow the onion to absorb the flavors of the spices and caramelize a bit more. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.

how to make rice pilaf

Zest and juice the orange.

how to make rice pilaf

Pour the orange juice over the cherries in a small bowl to hydrate them, if necessary adding enough water to cover completely. Set aside.

how to make rice pilaf

In a heavy 3-qt. saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.

how to make rice pilaf

Add the rice and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to low, and stir well to coat each grain with butter. Toast for a full 5 minutes, stirring regularly to keep the grains separated and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

how to make rice pilaf

Add 2-1/2 cups water, stir once, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.

how to make rice pilaf

Remove from the heat, and let the pilaf sit, still covered, for 5 minutes.

how to make rice pilaf

Once the pilaf has rested, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.

how to make rice pilaf

Strain the cherries and discard the orange juice. Using the fork, gently fold in the cherries, caramelized onions, pistachios, and 1/4 teaspoon packed orange zest.

how to make rice pilaf

Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and orange zest, if desired. (Note: Orange zest is very strong and somewhat bitter in flavor so be sure to add it little by little.)

how to make rice pilaf

Enjoy!

rice pilaf

My Recipe Videos

Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onion, Orange, Cherry & Pistachio

Servings: 6 to 8
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 medium onions: 2 thinly sliced into half-moons; 1 finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 orange, zest (you'll use about 1/4 tsp) and juice
  • 3/4 cup sweetened dried tart cherries
  • 1-1/2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 3/4 cup (3.5 oz) unsalted shelled pistachios

Instructions

  1. Set a liquid measuring cup with about 1/2 cup of water next to the stove. In a 12-inch skillet (preferably not nonstick), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are meltingly tender and a rich, deep caramel color, 20 to 25 minutes. To help the caramelization process along and prevent the onions from burning, deglaze the pan every so often with a few tablespoons of the water—but wait to do this until you see a brown film forming on the bottom of the pan. I usually use about 1/2 cup of water total, but you may need a bit more or less. Add the cumin and cinnamon and stir well. Reduce the heat to low and cook one minute more, stirring occasionally, to allow the onion to absorb the flavors of the spices and caramelize a bit more. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
  2. Pour the orange juice over the cherries in a small bowl to hydrate them, if necessary adding enough water to cover completely. Set aside.
  3. In a heavy 3-qt. saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to low, and stir well to coat each grain with butter. Toast for a full 5 minutes, stirring regularly to keep the grains separated and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add 2-1/2 cups water, stir once, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let the pilaf sit, still covered, for 5 minutes.
  5. Once the pilaf has rested, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Strain the cherries and discard the orange juice. Using the fork, gently fold in the cherries, caramelized onions, pistachios, and 1/4 teaspoon packed orange zest. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and orange zest, if desired. (Note: Orange zest is very strong and somewhat bitter in flavor so be sure to add it little by little.)

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (8 servings)
  • Calories: 323
  • Fat: 11 g
  • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 50 g
  • Sugar: 14 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Sodium: 299 mg
  • Cholesterol: 13 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Reviews & Comments

  • Jenn, I have fallen in love with Trader Joes frozen jasmine rice which I pop in the microwave for 3 minutes. So easy. How many cups of cooked rice would I substitute for the raw long grain white rice?

    • — Carol on November 9, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Carol, You’ll need about 4-3/4 cups. I’ll have to try the Trader Joes rice – one just opened up around the corner from my house. 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 12, 2018
      • Reply
  • Jenn, could this be made a day in advance? It looks really good. Thanks, Jamie

    • — Jamie on September 25, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Jamie, you can make this pilaf a day ahead and reheat in the oven or microwave. Just wait until right before serving to add the nuts or they’ll get soft. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 26, 2018
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, quick question: I could only find salted pistachios. Should I soak them to diminish the salt or use them as they are?
    Thanks. Kathy

    • — Kathy Vukasovich on July 2, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Kathy, I think it’s fine to use them as they are. If you’re nervous about it, though, use a smidge less salt in the rice. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 3, 2018
      • Reply
  • Caramelized onion is what makes this dish. The pilaf tasted amazing. I had to substitute the cherries with raisins since that is what l had. The outcome was perfect. I served this with roasted chicken and my family loved it and the only problem is that now they want caramelized onion in all the pilafs that I make.

    • — Debby on March 20, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I made this recipe using brown rice, (I found it added a nutty flavor which went well with all the other ingredients), roasted cashew nuts, dried cranberries and substituted home made chicken broth for the water – I agree with Marilyn, it definitely added depth of flavor! Since I used brown rice, I had to cook the rice for 50 minutes – but the rest of the recipe times and ingredients were followed as written. The results were fantastic-well worth the wait. The flavor of caramelized onion, and orange infused cranberry popped out of the bowl – this together with the cashew, made this rice dish one of the best I have tasted in a long time. I served this dish with roasted chicken and mixed vegetables. Thanks Jenn for another wonderful recipe!

    • — Jan on March 5, 2018
    • Reply
  • I made this for our main dish for dinner, and reduced the quantity by 1/2 for just my husband and I. Instead of throwing the orange juice out after soaking the cherries, I added it into the cooked rice, along with more salt, pepper and sliced almonds as some reviewers suggested. It’s very good and I’ll make it again, but with cranberries and almonds.

    • — Linda Stettler on March 2, 2018
    • Reply
  • This pilaf was just what I was looking for to serve for company with grilled chicken. It did not disappoint. I loved the combination of the caramelized onions, dried cherries and pistachios. I also used chicken broth in lieu of water to add a depth of flavor. I did most of the prep ahead of time and warmed it back up in my warming drawer and added the nuts prior to serving. A bit time consuming but easy to do ahead, which I love.

    • — Marilyn Burrows on March 1, 2018
    • Reply
  • I made this for my mom’s birthday dinner (served with salmon). Everyone loved it, commenting specifically on the delicious caramelized onions. I used basmati rice, substituted dried cranberries for the cherries, and pine nuts (sautéed until golden brown) for the pistachios because that’s what I had on hand. I would love to try this combination with brown rice or another type of grain…maybe bulgur wheat or even farro.

    • — Mona on March 1, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hello! I have made several of your recipes but this one just didn’t make quite the impression I was hoping for.
    The recipe took a lot longer than I anticipated. Caramelizing 2 whole onions was very labor intensive… maybe it’s my stove but it was around 20mins just to do this. Plus the added onion in the rice… the flavors were a little overpowering with onion. Also the cumin & cinnamon combo just didn’t have the right flavor to me. Maybe it’s was too Persian/Indian to me which I’m not the biggest fan of.
    To those wanting to make this… try and cut the onion amount in half. 1 onion to caramelize and 1/2 to put into your rice. Also increase amount of salt.
    If you are leary of Indian/Persian flavors… try a different recipe without the cinnamon/cumin combo.
    Good luck!

    • — Lana on March 1, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi! I am always looking for veggie receipes. Love the addition of the fruit, but I used cranberries as that is what I had in my pantry and not cherries. I think the concept of fruit and nuts will work well for a variety of combinations. Thanks

    • — manda shank on March 1, 2018
    • Reply
  • Great Pilaf! I disagree with other reviewers that this is bland. Yes, it takes time and a little patience, but the end result is a lovely side dish, which I served with seared salmon. I do agree the pistachios don’t add much, other than color and they are expensive. I halved the recipe and also added toasted sliced almonds, used low-sodium chicken broth instead of water, dried cranberries, and jasmine rice. I think the secret is really toasting the rice mixture which adds wonderful depth of flavor. I will definitely be making again!

    • — Janice T on February 25, 2018
    • Reply
  • Tasty but not worth the work or the expense of the ingredients. I will not make again.

    • — Carol Frampton on February 15, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    This is the first of your recipes that I have tried. I am an experienced cook and this recipe did nothing for me.
    I made the pilaf yesterday and in all honesty…it was way to labor intensive for the results I got. Mainly the time it takes to carmeize onions versus to the flavor they added is way out proportion. My suggestions: forget the carmelized onions, use 1/2 cup dried cranberries for cost saving and use toasted, slivered almonds (Trader Joe’s) in place of Pistachio nuts. The pistachio’s added nothing…neither flavor or crunch. I used low sodium chicken broth instead of water and omitted the salt.
    I thought the mechanics were good, the finished product was fluffy and perfectly cooked.
    I will persevere though. I have a couple more of your recipes that I will try.

    • — Gail Thorpe on February 14, 2018
    • Reply
  • Sorry, Jenn, usually I just LOVE your recipes. But this one, not so…..It was very bland for our taste…..

    • — raek on February 13, 2018
    • Reply
  • Delicious! After seeing this with the Restaurant-Style Pan Roasted Salmon, I had to make it. Since there were only two of us, I only made 2/3 of the recipe. I made a couple substitutions: brown basmati rice (rinsed) for the white rice increasing the water to double the amount of rice and dried cranberries for the dried cherries.

    • — Rachel on February 13, 2018
    • Reply
  • Super delicious! I made as indicated but substituted pecans for the pistachios since that’s what I had in my pantry. Served with your pan seared salmon and it was like dinner at the best restaurant. My husband raved!

    • — Carly on February 13, 2018
    • Reply
  • Do you think this would be good with quinoa in place of the rice?
    The recipe looks delish as written, however I’m trying to enjoy the more nutritious quinoa.
    Thanks!

    • — Kim on February 12, 2018
    • Reply
    • Sure, Kim – just follow the liquid measurement and cooking time on the box of quinoa. I’d love to know how it turns out.

      • — Jenn on February 13, 2018
      • Reply
  • Jenn–Any way all or part of this recipe could be made ahead? Would love to have it all done ahead of time and then just stick it covered in the oven to reheat before dinner with guests? Combo of flavors and textures look/sound fantastic.

    • — Diane on February 8, 2018
    • Reply
    • Absolutely, Diane – you can make this pilaf ahead and reheat in the oven or microwave. Just wait until before serving to add the nuts or they’ll get soft. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on February 8, 2018
      • Reply
  • The pilaf looks so much like a mixture of Persian pilafs called Albaloo polo and Javaher polo!

    • — Saeid on February 8, 2018
    • Reply

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