Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onion, Orange, Cherry & Pistachio
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Perfumed with spices, this exotic rice pilaf is a delicious way to jazz up pan-seared salmon or roast chicken.
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.
What you’ll need to make rice pilaf
How to make rice pilaf
To begin, slice two of the onions into half-moons, and dice the remaining onion.
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.
Zest and juice the orange.
Pour the orange juice over the cherries in a small bowl to hydrate them, if necessary adding enough water to cover completely. Set aside.
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.
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.
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.)
You may also like
- Basmati Rice Pilaf with Dried Fruit and Almonds
- Quinoa Pilaf with Mushrooms, Carrots, and Pecans
- Mexican Rice Pilaf
- Quinoa Pilaf with Chickpeas, Currants, and Almonds
Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onion, Orange, Cherry & Pistachio
Perfumed with spices, this exotic rice pilaf is a delicious way to jazz up pan-seared salmon or roast chicken.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 medium onions: 2 thinly sliced into half-moons; 1 finely diced
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 orange, zest (you'll use about ¼ tsp) and juice
- ¾ cup sweetened dried tart cherries
- 1½ cups long-grain white rice
- ¾ cup (3.5 oz) unsalted shelled pistachios
- Set a liquid measuring cup with about ½ 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 ½ 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 ¼ teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
- Pour the orange juice over the cherries in a small bowl to hydrate them, if necessary adding enough water to cover completely. Set aside.
- 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.
- Add 2½ 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.
- 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 ¼ 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.)
- 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.
Rice was excellent… like most of your recipes. You really understand food. The combination of the sweetish, fruity rice went so well with the fish… Great work Jenn
This pilaf sounds fabulous and I’m considering making this to go with your Onion Braised Brisket (another winner!). Do you think these would make a good combination? I’m thinking a pilaf would be a good side with the marvelous brisket sauce unless you have a better suggestion?
Thx so very much!
Hi Yvonne, I think it sounds like a wonderful combination. Enjoy!
Jenn – I made this rice and everyone loved it! I want to make it for my vegan children and am wondering how best to carmelize the onions without butter. What is your suggestion? Thanks. – Kathy
Hi Kathy, So glad this was a hit! To caramelize the onions, you can use oil in place of the butter. 🙂
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this rice. The first time I made it, I didn’t have pistachio, so I toasted some walnut bits to add instead. It turned out to be great also. For the rice part, I like to mix in half wild rice to be more healthy. I learned to use bit less oil to my like. Overall, this is such a keeper! Thank you!
This rice pilaf is SO good. Have made it many times. Thank you, Jenn!
Have you ever tried this recipe with wild rice or a combination of wild and brown rice? I’m thinking of using one or the other for a Thanksgiving side dish. Any tips on cooking wild rice would be helpful.
Happy holidays from a devoted fan.
Hi Mary Pat, I’ve never made this with wild or brown rice or a combination of the 2. I think it would work but I’d read the cooking instructions on the package of wild rice to see how much water you’ll need as well as the cook time as it may be different than what I’ve indicated in the recipe. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it (and happy holidays to you too)!
Hi Jen! First I just wanted to say thank you for all of your amazing recipes. When I need a new recipe for some dish I always check your website first to see if you have a variation.
I was wondering if this rice dish would pair well with your Chicken Marbella, or would the flavors compete? I am looking for a starch side to serve with that chicken dish.
So glad you like the recipes, Mary! I think the flavors in the pilaf would compete with those in the chicken so I’d recommend something more simple. Couscous would be great here. Hope that helps!
Made this as a side with Moroccan Grilled Chicken. Delicious! So good that my husband said it was my best dinner yet and I cook a lot!
One of the best rice dishes I have ever made!
Hi Jen, A friend of mine told me about your website. I love it so much, I bought your cookbook! I was just wondering if you could substitute quinoa for the rice? Also, if pistachios are unavailable, would almonds, cashews or walnuts work?
So glad you like the recipes and I appreciate your support with the cookbook! Yes, I do think you could use rice here, but you won’t need to toast the quinoa like you do the rice. When you get to that step, just cook the quinoa according to the package instructions. Hope you enjoy!
I made this recipe tonight and it was delicious, I didn’t have pistachios on hand so I used the pecans I had. I did have the dried cherries and orange so I thought I would give it a try. My husband and I loved it. Thanks for the recipe.
We thought the rice pilaf was delicious! I used sweetened cranberries (instead of cherries), and I saved the fresh orange juice (after soaking the cranberries) and added it as part of the water for the rice. I served this with jumbo shrimp sautéed in butter. Jenn, I loved the hint to add 1 tblsp at a time to the onions as they caramelized.
Your recipes are spot-on delicious, easy to prepare (with your precise instructions), and an inspiration for those whose culinary experience has not yet developed into its full potential. I am so glad I ordered your cookbook when it first came out, and I look forward to your next
Can I use a 3.5 quart Le Creuset saucepan?
Any adjustments in cooking time?
Hi Pam, that should work with no adjustments needed. Hope you enjoy!
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?
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, could this be made a day in advance? It looks really good. Thanks, Jamie
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!
Hi Jenn, quick question: I could only find salted pistachios. Should I soak them to diminish the salt or use them as they are?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
Tasty but not worth the work or the expense of the ingredients. I will not make again.
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.
Experienced cooks know that caramelizing onions takes time.
Sorry, Jenn, usually I just LOVE your recipes. But this one, not so…..It was very bland for our taste…..
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.
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!
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.
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–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.
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!
The pilaf looks so much like a mixture of Persian pilafs called Albaloo polo and Javaher polo!