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 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 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.
  • 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 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 and broth and set to COOK. When finished, allow the rice to sit in the cooker for 10 minutes before serving.

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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.
Author: Meggan Hill
5 from 25 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Servings 4 servings (1-cup each)
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Greek
Calories 256

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a medium saucepan, heat clarified butter or olive oil 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
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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. 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

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

  2. 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

  3. 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. Itโ€™s my go-to when making โ€œfancyโ€ rice. Iโ€™ve even subbed red onion when it was all I had on hand and it didnโ€™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

  4. Came out perfect! Thank you ๐Ÿ˜Š i was wondering if I were to add some cranberries when can I do that?

    1. Hi Katerina! You can do this after removing the bay leaf and fluffing with a fork, stir in dried cranberries. I would recommend about 1/4 cup. Sounds delicious, hope it turns out great! – Meggan

  5. This is a very fine recipe, easy to follow and end result is delicious ! I had to add about 3/4 water half way threw the final stage, possibly had too much heat, was not on the lowest setting. Will try again! I should have thought of sauvignon blanc addition in place of extra water, that must be good.5 stars

    1. Hi Craig! I’m glad you loved it, definitely try again with a little bit of white wine! :) Thank you! – Meggan

  6. This is a great recipe! Very easy, very flexible. I added dried apricots, fresh rosemary, and toasted pine nuts with a little Sauvignon Blanc to complement a citrus glazed pork tenderloin–it was amazing! I had to add more liquid during cooking, but it turned out perfectly. Will definitely make it again!5 stars

  7. Really, really appreciate your breaking down these basic recipes for the cooking novice in a lovely, kind, easy to understand and non-condescending manner. You rock!!

  8. I just love this rice. I’ve made it 4 or 5 times and its always just so good. Such good flavor and so easy to make!5 stars

    1. Hi Adrienne, yes, definitely! You could reheat it over low-heat on a stove top or covered in the microwave. If it seems dry, add a few drops or a teaspoon of water and cover it before cooking. You should be good to go. Thanks! -Meggan