This easy Moroccan rice pilaf is infused with a fragrant saffron spice mix and studded with dried fruit and nuts for a classic Middle Eastern flavor.
Basmati rice is the traditional choice for rice pilaf. It's a type of long-grain white rice that's known for its unique fragrance and a light nutty taste. Basmati is grown in the Himalayas and Pakistan, and the name in Hindi actually means 'full of aroma' – 'Bas' for aroma and 'mati' meaning full of. What sets Basmati apart from regular white rice is its longer, thinner grains which cook up nice and fluffy. You can also find brown basmati rice, if you prefer to use that.
If you're looking for more Moroccan and Middle Eastern flavors try my easy bean stew with ras el hanout and my grilled Moroccan chicken. All of these recipes go really well with this Moroccan lamb tagine recipe.
⭐️ Why this recipe works
- Balance of flavors: The natural nutty flavor of Basmati rice goes hand in hand with these Middle Eastern spices. They enhance each other, making every bite perfectly balanced.
- Simple prep: This straightforward rice pilaf recipe makes it easy for anyone to prepare without needing advanced cooking skills.
- Versatile side dish: This rice pilaf pairs well with various main dishes, from grilled meats to vegetable stews, making it a great side dish for any meal.
🧾 Ingredients overview
In this section, I've outlined the key ingredients and why they're essential in the recipe. For precise measurements, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
- Basmati rice: The heart of our pilaf, Basmati rice is known for its distinct fragrance and long, slender grains. It cooks up fluffy and absorbs the flavors of the spices beautifully. *Use brown basmati rice if you prefer.
- Spices: A blend of ground spices, including coriander, fennel, turmeric, and cardamom, brings depth and warmth to the dish.
- Onion and garlic: Finely chopped white onion and minced garlic add savory layers and enhance the overall flavor profile of the pilaf.
- Saffron (optional, but recommended): Saffron strands, steeped in boiling water, offer a luxurious golden hue and a subtle, exotic aroma. While optional, saffron is highly recommended if you have access to it, as it elevates the pilaf to a whole new level.
- Dried fruits: A mixture of dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins, and cherries, introduces a hint of natural sweetness and chewy texture, contrasting the savory rice and spices.
- Toasted almonds and pistachios: These nuts provide a satisfying crunch and a nutty richness that complements the overall flavor profile of the pilaf.
👩🏻🍳 How to make Moroccan rice pilaf step by step
- Rinse Rice: Rinse the Basmati rice until the water runs clear.
- Saffron infusion (optional): Steep 6 saffron strands in ¼ cup boiling water for 10 mins.
- Sauté Aromatics: In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Cook the chopped onion until soft (4 mins). Add the spices and minced garlic clove. Cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.
- Stir in the rice: Stir in rice and sauté for 3 mins. Add saffron water, 1 ¼ cups additional water, salt, and pepper. Simmer covered for 15-18 mins until liquid is absorbed.
- Add Dried Fruits and rest: Lay the mixed dried fruits on top of the rice and place the lid back on the pot. Cover and rest for 10 mins. *This softens the dried fruit and releases their flavor and oils.
- Finish and serve: Stir in the toasted chopped nuts, fluff the rice with a fork and serve warm.
💡 Chef's Guide: Expert Tips
Drawing from a decade in Michelin-starred kitchens and Cordon Bleu training, here are my top tips for recipe success.
- Toasting spices: For an extra layer of flavor, toast the ground spices before adding them to the rice. Toasting enhances the spices' aroma and adds depth to the dish.
- Perfectly fluffy rice: To achieve perfectly fluffy rice, resist the temptation to lift the lid while it's simmering. Letting the rice steam undisturbed ensures the ideal texture.
- Saffron handling: When using saffron, handle it gently. Steeping it in hot water for at least 10 minutes allows it to release its full flavor and color.
- Nuts and dried fruits: Toasting the almonds and pistachios before adding them enhances their flavor and crunch. Mix them in just before serving to maintain their texture.
- Customize dried fruits: Get creative with the dried fruits. While apricots, raisins, and cherries are traditional, you can experiment with other options like dates or figs for a unique twist.
- Adjust seasoning: Taste the rice before serving and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Remember that saffron and dried fruits add sweetness, so balance the flavors accordingly.
- Garnish with fresh herbs: To brighten the dish, garnish your Moroccan Rice Pilaf with freshly chopped herbs like parsley or cilantro before serving.
- Pairing Suggestions: Consider pairing the pilaf with Moroccan-inspired dishes like grilled chicken, lamb, or tagines. The rice's subtle spice and fruity notes complement these dishes beautifully.
- Make Ahead: You can prepare the rice in advance and reheat it gently on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add a splash of water to refresh it if needed.
🍯 Storing and reheating leftovers
- Fridge: Allow any leftover rice to cool to room temperature. Then, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate it within two hours of cooking. Properly stored, it can be refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
- Freezer: To freeze the pilaf for longer storage, place it in an airtight freezer-safe container or heavy-duty freezer bags. Make sure to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Moroccan rice pilaf can be frozen for up to 2-3 months.
- Fridge: When reheating from the fridge, place the desired portion in a microwave-safe dish. Add a small splash of water to help refresh the rice, cover it with a microwave-safe lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap, and heat it in the microwave in 30-second intervals. Stir the rice between intervals until it's heated through.
- Freezer: If reheating from the freezer, first allow the frozen pilaf to thaw in the fridge overnight. Once thawed, you can follow the same reheating instructions as for leftovers from the fridge.
Remember always to reheat rice thoroughly until it's steaming hot to ensure food safety. Additionally, you can drizzle a bit of water or broth over the rice before reheating to help maintain its moisture and prevent it from becoming dry.
You can substitute white Basmati rice with brown Basmati for a different option. Remember that brown rice generally requires a longer cooking time and more liquid, so adjust accordingly.
While saffron adds a unique flavor and vibrant color to the dish, it's optional. You can still make delicious Moroccan rice pilaf without saffron if unavailable.
Yes, you can make this rice in advance and reheat it when needed. Just follow proper storage and reheating instructions to maintain its quality.
To prevent rice from sticking to the pot, make sure to properly rinse the rice before cooking. Additionally, using a non-stick saucepan can help.
Absolutely! Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, or mint can be added as a garnish just before serving to enhance the flavor and presentation of the dish.
Looking for more Moroccan recipes? Try these:
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One Pot Simple Moroccan Saffron Rice Pilaf
- 1 cup white Basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 strands of saffron
- ¼ cup boiling water, for saffron infusion
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground fennel
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup mixed dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins, cherries
- ¼ cup almonds, toasted and chopped
- ¼ cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
- Bloom the Saffron: Steep the saffron strands in ¼ cup of boiling water for about 10 minutes. This process allows the saffron to release its flavor and color.
- Rinse the rice: Under cold running water, rinse the Basmati rice in a strainer until the water runs clear, about 2 minutes. This step removes excess starch and is key to fluffy rice.
- Soften the onions: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the finely chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the spices: Stir in the ground coriander, turmeric, ground fennel, ground cardamom, and minced garlic with the onions, cooking for another minute until fragrant.
- Cook the rice: Add the rinsed rice to the saucepan, stirring for about 3 minutes to coat it well with the spice mix. Pour in the saffron-infused water with an additional 1 ¼ cups of water. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 to 18 minutes.
- Add Dried Fruits: Turn off the heat. Gently lay the dried fruits on top of the rice without stirring. Cover and let the rice stand for 10 minutes, allowing the fruits to soften.
- Finish and Serve: Stir in the toasted almonds and chopped pistachios, then fluff the rice with a fork. Serve warm.
- Blooming the saffron is essential for imparting its full flavor and color to the dish.
- Rinsing the rice thoroughly ensures it cooks up perfectly fluffy.
- The resting period at the end allows the rice to finish cooking in its own steam and lets the flavors meld.