Lemon Rice Pilaf

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Lemon Rice Pilaf is so fluffy, flavorful, and delicious. This easy recipe simmers white rice with onions, broth, and lots of lemon for a perfect foundation under juicy chicken kabobs, gyros, or shrimp skewers.

An angled shot of lemon rice and pilaf on a white plate.


 

Whether you’re serving A basic rotisserie chicken, a piece of grilled salmon, or a platter of roasted vegetables, Lemon Rice Pilaf brightens up the plate.

With a pilaf, the uncooked grains are toasted in the pan before any liquid is added; this extra step keeps the grains from clumping together in the pot. Then everything is simmered in rich broth, herbs, and spices–in this case lots of lemon juice and zest–to make it delicious with anything else you have going on in the kitchen. You’ll love it.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled lemon rice pilaf ingredients in bowls.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Rice: Any long-grain rice works. I love using fragrant white rice, like basmati or jasmine. Stay away from short-grain rice, which can get too glutinous and stick together. If you’d rather make a brown rice pilaf, just adjust your cooking time according to the cooking instructions for the variety of rice you’re using. Brown rice takes considerably longer to cook.
  • Lemon juice and zest: The key to the lovely brightness in this dish. Zest your lemon first, then juice it.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat clarified butter or olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. 
Onion, cooking in a silver skillet.
  1. Stir in rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.  
Lemon rice in a silver skillet.
  1. Stir in garlic and lemon zest until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, broth, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to boil. 
Broth being added to lemon rice in a silver skillet.
  1. Cover, reduce heat, and cook until rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove bay leaf and fluff with a fork.
Lemon rice in a silver skillet.

Why I love my rice cooker

I find that rice cookers help make the fluffiest rice and when we rounded up the best rice cookers, our top pick was my personal favorite: The Aroma Housewares Rice Cooker. It’s compact, super simple, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do without fail. My sisters, Erin and Meredith, each have the same one, and we all love it. Not to mention, it has over 61,000 positive reviews. That’s a whole lot of rice!

You can buy my favorite rice cooker for $42 at Target, or you can get the smaller 4-cup version for about $30 on Amazon.

A photo of a rice cooker.

Rice cookers can cook polenta beautifully, also, without stirring it for a million hours. It’s not just a one-job appliance. And if you’re not sold on my rice cooker, others on our list have slow cooker capabilities, too.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes 4 cups of Lemon Rice Pilaf.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezer: Cooked rice freezes like a dream! Cool, divide into portions, and add to freezer-safe containers. Label, date, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or defrost in the microwave.
  • A tight-fitting lid: Make sure your skillet has a lid that fits well, to trap in the steam and let the rice cook properly. Too loose, and you’ll lose the moisture before the rice is done.
  • More mix-ins: Elevate your pilaf with pine nuts, pistachios, or roasted almonds, chopped scallions, or roasted garlic.
Lemon rice pilaf and breaded chicken on a platter.
Lemon rice pilaf with chicken piccata.

Recipe FAQs

Can I make rice pilaf in a slow cooker?

Yes, you sure can! Start the rice on the stove by cooking the onions and toasting the rice in a skillet, up through step 2 in the recipe card. Then transfer the rice to your rice cooker, add the lemon zest and juice, bay leaf, broth, and set to COOK. When finished, allow the rice to sit in the cooker for 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Piccata Recipe

This Italian Chicken Piccata Recipe has both the typical flour dredge and a coating of crunchy bread crumbs. This extra crispy version tastes so delicious with the buttery lemon sauce and capers. Serve it with pasta, lemon rice pilaf, or even mashed potatoes.

30 minutes
View Recipe

Favorite mains for Lemon Rice Pilaf

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Lemon rice pilaf and chicken piccata on a platter.

Lemon Rice Pilaf

Lemon Rice Pilaf is so fluffy, flavorful, and delicious. This easy recipe simmers white rice with onions, broth, and lots of lemon for a perfect foundation under juicy chicken kabobs, gyros, or shrimp skewers.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 4 servings (1-cup each)
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Greek
Calories 256
4.97 from 54 votes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a medium saucepan, heat clarified butter or olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. 
  • Stir in rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.  
  • Stir in garlic and lemon zest until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, broth, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to boil. 
  • Cover, reduce heat, and cook until rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove bay leaf and fluff with a fork.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Rice: Any long grain rice works. I love using a fragrant white rice, like basmati or jasmine. Stay away from short grain rice, which can get too glutinous and stick together. If you’d rather make a brown rice pilaf, just adjust your cooking time according to the cooking instructions for the variety of rice you’re using. Brown rice takes considerably longer to cook.
  2. Lemon juice and zest: The key to the lovely brightness in this dish. Zest your lemon first, then juice it.
  3. Yield: This recipe makes 4 cups of Lemon Rice Pilaf.
  4. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  5. Freezer: Cooked rice freezes like a dream! Cool, divide into portions, and add to freezer-safe containers. Label, date, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or defrost in the microwave.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 256kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 4gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 510mgPotassium: 159mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 26mgIron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @culinaryhill on Instagram so we can admire your masterpiece! #culinaryhill
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. This recipe was awesome. I wasn’t sure like other commenters here about the water amount, but I trusted Meggan’s instructions. I did add some dill and oregano (1/2 tsp each of dry) and all the juice from 1/2 of the lemon and some freshly chopped up mint. Wow! I’ll be sharing this recipe to friends!5 stars

    1. Thank you for trusting my recipe, FatCatAnna! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Take care – Meggan

  2. I’ve never seen a rice pilaf recipe with a one to one ratio of rice to liquid. Please explain how this works.

    1. Hi Maxine, thank you for your question! For this pilaf, the rice absorbs the liquid without being fully submerged in it, yielding a slightly drier rice and more separate grain texture. Please write again with any more questions. Take care! – Meggan

  3. This is the second time (?) I think I’ve used this recipe and I thought the proportions seemed off–there’s not enough liquid to cook the rice. I remember NOW that happened once before using this recipe. And I even added more chicken stock than the recipe called for. Disappointing. Maybe because I didn’t use a full cup of onions? But onions don’t typically “give off’ a lot of liquid. No, I think you just need 1.5 cups liquid typically for 1 c rice.3 stars

    1. Hi Laurian, thank you so much for your comment. I’m sorry your rice didn’t come out right. Sounds like your heat is too high and boiling off the liquid. The heat should be enough to have the oil just shimmering, and once the broth reaches a boil, reduce the heat and cover. Allowing the mixture to boil for a while will result in there not being enough liquid for the rice to cook. Sorry again and I hope the next batch is better. – Meggan

    1. Hi Alexis, mushrooms sound like a delicious addition! Its possible your heat may have been a little too high, glad you were able to add more broth to the pilaf. Thank you and take care! – Meggan

  4. Really good! I had to add more liquid, 1/2 cup. I served with blackened rock fish and mango salsa. Perfect pairings.5 stars

  5. We just had this last night. I tweaked it by adding a bit more broth and then some Greek seasonings (dill, mint, oregano) extra garlic & lemon. It was so good! Everyone in the house has separate allergies & this amazingly suited everyone!
    Thank you for posting such a solid base recipe, I can see us using this in many ways.
    xoxo5 stars

  6. I have made this at least a dozen times now, with either ghee or olive oil depending on my mood. It is phenomenal every time! The rice is lemony without being overwhelming and has that buttery taste of rice pilaf even when cooked with olive oil. It’s my go-to when making “fancy” rice. I’ve even subbed red onion when it was all I had on hand and it didn’t make a difference in flavor – it was just pink instead of yellow. Thank you for sharing this recipe, it is a favorite and a staple in our house!5 stars

    1. Thank you Alexa, I’m so glad you love it. Those variations sound great! – Meggan

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