Pilau Rice

Yellow Pilau Rice with Whole spices such as cumin seeds, cardamon pods and cinnamon

Every Indian takeaway menu across the UK features pilau rice in some form. This recipe will make your curry night a little more special with minimal extra effort.

What is Pilau Rice?

We all tend to recognise pilau rice as bright yellow and contains whole spices such as cardamom. However, Pilau rice refers to rice cooked in a seasoned broth. Alternative names for pilau rice include pilaf and pulao when referring to the Indian versions. However, every region worldwide has its name for rice cooked in broth.

The commonality of pilau-style dishes comes from the dominance of the Abbasid Caliphate, which stretched from Spain to India at its height. As a result of this expansive territory, Pilaf-style rice recipes stretch from Eastern Europe to Asia and Africa. Spanish paella is also thought to have evolved using the same cooking techniques.

Rice for Pilau Rice

Basmati rice. I chose this rice as it has a nutty flavour and works well with toasted spices. Not only does it taste better, but it’s also the most traditional rice used in India, so it makes sense to use it in an Indian-inspired rice recipe.

Some argue for soaking basmati rice, while others don’t deem it necessary. I believe in soaking away the excess starch in basmati rice as it helps achieve super fluffy rice with grains that remain well separated. However, I don’t think it’s essential to soak basmati rice for hours at a time. I like to rinse my water in 2-3 changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Set the rice aside to drain and dry before toasting in hot oil.


Cinnamon Stick – Cinnamon sticks impart their flavour more subtly than ground cinnamon. Ground cinnamon often comes from a different spice called cassia, which, while similar to true cinnamon, also has a slightly sweeter flavour.

Cardamon Pods – Several cardamon pod varieties exist, from black to green. However, this recipe calls for lightly crushed green cardamon pods. Cardamon pod flavour lies in the seeds inside the pod and not the pod itself, so it’s essential to bash them so lightly they release their flavours. While most pilaf rice dishes leave the pods in the rice when serving, some people find biting into one unpleasant with its sharp citrus-like flavour and tough outer shell.

Cumin Seeds – Cumin seeds have a strong earthy flavour and add a visual element to the bright yellow rice. However, its partner in crime, coriander, remains ground in this recipe as it helps flavour the rice.

Bay Leaves – These tough leaves taste much better when dried, although you wouldn’t want to eat one in any form. They’re perfect for infusing a herbaceous element to the pilau rice.

Ground Turmeric – They component! Turmeric gives pilau rice its signature yellow, which most of us have grown accustomed to over the years, whether it’s an Indian takeaway or a cheap ready meal.

Yellow Pilau Rice with Whole spices such as cumin seeds, cardamon pods and cinnamon

Pilau Rice

Every Indian takeaway menu across the UK features pilau rice in some form, so this recipe will turn your nice curry night into something a little more special with minimal extra effort.
Prep Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4
Calories 260 kcal


  • 30 ml Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Large Onion Diced
  • 3 Garlic Cloves Chopped
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 8 Cardamon Pods Lightly Crushed
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1 Tsp Ground Coriander
  • ½ Tsp Ground Turmeric
  • 300 g Basmati Rice
  • 600 ml Vegetable Stock
  • 5 g Coriander Leaves Chopped
  • Salt to taste.


  • Soak the rice in cold water for 5 minutes, then repeat in fresh water. Repeat 3 times and drain the rice through a sieve. Set aside to drain until dry.
  • Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan, and fry the onion with the whole spices until the onions begin to brown and soften. This should take around 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, coriander, and turmeric. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring continuously.
  • Add the rice and toast for 2-3 minutes while stirring continuously to evenly coat the rice in the spices.
  • Add the stock and salt to taste, and cover. Bring the rice to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10-12 minutes until almost all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to stand, still covered, for 5-6 minutes.
  • Uncover the rice and fluff with a fork. Season to taste.
  • Serve finished with chopped coriander.
Keyword basmati, curry, Grains, PIlaf, pulao, rice, Spices

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