Lemon Rice Pilaf

Anyone who has ever been to a Greek festival has tasted this simple lemon rice recipe; fragrant white rice that’s cooked in a rich broth with onions and lots of fresh lemon. It’s a tasty mainstay under chicken kabobs, gyros, you name it! It’s also about to become your new dinnertime best friend.

Lemon Rice Pilaf is the perfect side dish to whip up, no matter what you’re planning to cook as a main course. Baked Salmon, chicken souvlaki, Grilled Shrimp Skewers—the sky is the limit with this miraculous rice recipe. It welcomes any and all improvisation, too: scallions, herbs, thyme, even chopped pistachios for a little nutty crunch.

Use leftover rice pilaf tossed in a citrusy Greek salad, or reheated in an impromptu Greek fried rice for a quick lunch. There’s just no wrong way to eat the leftovers.

This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 

Making Lemon Rice Pilaf for your whole squad? Make sure you have enough. Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.

What is rice pilaf, and how is rice pilaf different than cooked rice?

While most long- and short-grain rice is usually boiled, steamed, or baked in water, a pilaf–also known as pulao, or pilau—goes the extra mile. For a pilaf, rice is typically simmered in a broth or stock, then flavored with herbs, spices, nuts, or dried fruit. Furthermore, pilaf is cooked in a way so that the grains don’t stick to one another or get too clumpy. Sautéing the grains of rice in the butter or oil helps keep the grains of rice from sticking together during cooking.

What’s the best rice for Lemon Rice Pilaf?

Any long grain rice works for making rice pilaf; short grain rice can get too glutinous and clump together. I love making Lemon Rice Pilaf with a fragrant white rice, such as basmati or jasmine. White rice cooks in no time at all, and that’s exactly why this side dish is so brilliant.

If you’re interested in making 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.

How to make Lemon Rice Pilaf:

It’s wonderfully easy.

  1. Grab a skillet—make sure it has a lid that fits well. In the skillet, sauté the onions in olive oil or clarified butter. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the rice and give everything a good stir.This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 
  2. Keep stirring until the rice grains get slightly browned. Then stir in the lemon zest and garlic.This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 
  3. Next, add the broth, lemon juice, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil. (By the way, if you have some white wine, if you want, add a little glug of it into the rice in place of some of the broth. You’ll love it!)This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 
  4. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook until the liquid absorbs and the rice is tender.This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 
  5. Take out the bay leaf and give your beautiful pilaf a fluff with a fork.This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 

How to make Rice Pilaf in a rice cooker:

Lemon Rice Pilaf is easy to make on the stovetop with a skillet and a snug-fitting lid, but if you’ve got a trusty rice cooker, by all means, put it to work!

  1. In a skillet over medium high heat, heat the clarified butter or olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Next, pour in the rice and stir, sautéing until slightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, bay leaf, and chicken broth to a 4 cup capacity or larger rice cooker. Set to cook.
  4. When finished cooking, allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Fun things to add to Lemon Rice Pilaf:

Herbs: Got some fresh thyme, a little sprig of rosemary, or some tarragon? Chop it up and scatter it over the top of the hot rice. Perfection!

Nuts: Pine nuts, lemon rice with pistachios, or roasted, silvered almonds are natural fits.

Scallions or garlic: Lemon Rice Pilaf with extra garlic is always popular with the garlic lovers…and chopped scallions or chives add a little extra something, too. Play around and share your discoveries below!

This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day. 

To make Vegetarian or Vegan Lemon Rice Pilaf:

In place of the chicken broth, use a vegetable broth, or a veggie broth/white wine combination. To cook this dish completely vegan, switch out the butter for olive oil.

Lemon Rice Pilaf

This recipe for Lemon Rice Pilaf should definitely be in your culinary bag of tricks; it’s ridiculously simple and good enough to eat straight out of the pot with a spoon. Make extra--you'll love having it around the next day.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Greek
Keyword lemon, rice
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 129 kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup onion minced (about 1/2 medium)
  • 1 cup white rice long-grain, jasmine, or basmati
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat clarified butter or olive oil until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. 

  2. Stir in rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.  

  3. Stir in garlic and lemon zest until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, broth, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to boil. 

  4. 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.

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