Best pilaf recipes: these fragrant one-pot dishes are perfect for midweek meals

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One-pot dishes don’t come any better – or tastier – than pilaf. Rustle up a tasty midweek meal with these flavour-packed recipes.

If there’s one food that’s been a constant source of comfort throughout the pandemic, it’s surely one-pot meals. From stews and casseroles to traybakes and one tin bakes, throw-together dishes are a saving grace when you’re tired and lacking inspiration for dinner.

As Alan Rosenthal explains in his new cookbook Foolproof One-Pot (£12.99, Quadrille), one-pot meals aren’t only a way to guarantee an easy life in the kitchen. “One-pot recipes are, more often than not, incredibly comforting and heart-warming,” he writes. “It’s a style of cooking that’s akin to reconnecting with an old friend; something you do perhaps only once or twice a year, but when you do, it’s as if you’ve had no time apart and you wonder why you’ve not seen each other for so long.”

One dish that always delivers that deeply reassuring feeling is pilaf. An ancient dish featuring rice or another wheat grain cooked in broth, pilaf is believed to have originated in the Middle East well over 1,000 years ago. Today, it’s found in various guises all over the world, from Brazil to Bangladesh.

Foolproof One-Pot by Alan Rosenthal

The key to a perfect pilaf is that each grain of rice should be kept firm, fluffy and separate. The grain acts a foundation for other ingredients, from vegetables and dried fruits and nuts to seafood and meat.

Add a generous sprinkling of vivid spices into the mix, and you’ll get deeper layers of flavour – not to mention a cheery burst of colour. And if you get it just right, you’ll achieve the holy grail of pilaf, the tahdig: a golden crust of rice that literally translates to “bottom of the pot” in Persian.

If a fragrant, fluffy pilaf sounds your ideal midweek meal, we’ve three delicious recipes to share from Rosenthal’s new cookbook. First up, his king prawn, bulgur and chard pilaf: a colourful, Turkish-inspired one-pot with pul biber chilli flakes for an extra kick of heat.

The spiced courgette, green leaf and herb pilaf with baked eggs, meanwhile, takes its cue from the cuisine of central Asia. With a rich medley of sweet and savoury flavours, it’s a vegetarian dish that’s ideal for freezing and reheating whenever you need some sunshine.

Finally, Rosenthal’s lamb and buckwheat pilaf with cherries, chestnut and dill is a vibrant upgrade to everyday rice that features a wonderfully crunchy topping. Maximum flavour; minimum washing up.  

  • King prawn, bulgur and chard pilaf

    Pilaf recipes: king prawn, bulgur and chard pilaf

    Alan says: “This Turkish-inspired one-pot is a quick and easy meal. The chilli flakes I recommend, isot pul biber, are crimson red and wonderfully fruity which means they impart a rich colour as well as flavour to the dish. 

    “However, feel free to use whichever crushed chilli flakes you can find, but do be a little less generous as the Turkish variety is much milder in heat.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 50g unsalted butter
    • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped 
    • 1 red Romano pepper, halved lengthways then finely sliced
    • 1 bunch of chard, leaves and stalks separated, stems finely sliced, leaves roughly sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
    • ½ tsp mild Turkish red pepper flakes (isot pul biber) or crushed chilli flakes
    • 1 tsp ground cumin 
    • 2 tsp ground paprika
    • 1 tsp ground oregano
    • 1 tbsp tomato purée
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 750ml hot vegetable stock
    • 300g coarse bulgur wheat 
    • 250g raw, shelled king prawns
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • lemon wedges, to serve

    Method

    Melt the butter in your deep pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, Romano pepper, chopped chard stalks and a pinch of salt and cook for 10–12 minutes until the vegetables have softened and reduced in volume.

    Add the garlic, isot pul biber or crushed chilli, cumin, paprika and oregano and cook for around 2 minutes, stirring well. 

    Add the tomato purée and cook for another 2 minutes, continuing to stir a few times. Add the lemon zest, 1 tsp salt and some black pepper.

    Now pour in the hot stock, mix everything together, then add the bulgur wheat, stirring to distribute it evenly. Bring the pot to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat right down, cover and allow to cook, without peeking, for 10 minutes.

    Remove the lid and, without any mixing, place the prawns on top of the bulgur and top with the chopped chard leaves. Pop the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.

    Turn the heat off and give everything a gentle stir so the prawns become incorporated within the cooked bulgur. Replace the lid and leave for 5 minutes, allowing the steam to finish cooking the dish.

    Give everything one final toss and serve with lemon wedges.

    Tip

    Get ahead by preparing everything a day before, up until the stock and bulgur wheat are added.

  • Lamb and buckwheat pilaf with cherries, chestnuts and dill

    Pilaf recipes: Lamb and buckwheat pilaf with cherries, chestnuts and dill

    Alan says: “Pilafs can be found all over Eastern Europe, central Asia and the Middle East, ranging from the simple to the most complicated depending on the occasion.

    “In this recipe, cherries and chestnuts impart their unmistakeable fruity sweetness on savoury lamb, buckwheat and fresh dill. Cooking the pilaf in the oven avoids any burnt bottoms and, I think, gives a nice crunch to the buckwheat at the surface of the dish.”

    Serves 4-6

    Ingredients

    • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
    • 500g lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 3cm cubes
    • 2 onions, peeled and finely sliced 
    • 50g unsalted butter
    • 1 tsp ground allspice 
    • 1 tsp ground cumin 
    • 2 bay leaves
    • a pinch of crushed chilli flakes 
    • 75g dried cherries (or cranberries)
    • 2 carrots, coarsely grated
    • 75g cooked peeled chestnuts, broken up slightly
    • 300g toasted buckwheat 
    • 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 3–4 tbsp chopped fresh dill, to serve

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Add the oil to your deep pot. Brown the lamb in 2 batches. Using a slotted spoon, transfer each batch to a bowl, keeping as much of the oil in the pot as possible. 

    Now lower the heat a little and add the onions and butter with a pinch of salt. Cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions have reduced and begun to caramelise.

    Now add the allspice, cumin, bay leaves and chilli flakes with ½ tsp black pepper. Allow the spices and onions to cook for a couple of minutes before returning the meat and any collected juices to the pot. 

    Add 300ml boiling water and a generous pinch of salt and bring to a gentle simmer. 

    Cover the pot, pop it in the oven, and cook for 1 ½ hours, adding the dried cherries (or cranberries) halfway through and giving things a good stir.

    The sauce should have reduced and thickened and the meat will be tender. Remove the pot from the oven and increase the temperature to 200°C/gas mark 6.

    Give the lamb a good stir. Add the carrots and chestnuts in a layer on top of the lamb and sauce. Next add the toasted buckwheat on top and push the garlic cloves into the buckwheat. No stirring!

    Now dissolve 1 tsp salt in 500ml boiling water and carefully pour this into the pot. Using the back of a spoon, submerge any buckwheat that appears to be floating. Pop the lid on and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

    Remove from the oven, stir gently and allow to sit for

    5 minutes with the lid on before serving sprinkled with the fresh dill. Be sure to eat the garlic by squeezing the softened flesh from the skins – it’s delicious!

    Tip

    You can make the entire base ahead, let it cool and leave until the next day. Simply add the buckwheat and stock just before you want to bake the dish.

  • Spiced courgette, green leaf and herb pilaf with baked eggs

    Pilaf recipes: Spiced courgette, green leaf and herb pilaf with baked eggs

    Alan says: “In this recipe, I’ve been inspired by the fragrant pilafs of central Asia where sweet and savoury flavours are combined so successfully. For me, the tanginess that creamy yogurt brings to the dish is essential here, acting as a flavour bridge between the sweet raisins and savoury herbs.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 80g mix of watercress, spinach and rocket, roughly chopped
    • 1 green chilli, finely sliced, seeds left in 
    • 2 courgettes, coarsely grated 
    • 3 tbsp roughly chopped dill, plus a handful extra for serving
    • 3 tbsp roughly chopped coriander, plus a handful extra for serving
    • 50g unsalted butter 
    • 1 tbsp light olive oil
    • 1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
    • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated 
    • 1 tbsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cardamom 
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp nigella seeds 
    • 3 tbsp raisins
    • 300g basmati rice
    • 650ml hot vegetable stock
    • 4 eggs
    • 10g flaked almonds
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 tbsp Greek yogurt, to serve

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Add your mixed leaves to a large bowl with the chilli, courgette and fresh herbs and set aside.

    Melt the butter with the oil over a medium heat in your wide shallow pot. Add the spring onions and cook for 2 minutes until the onions start to soften. 

    Now add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the spices and nigella seeds. Cook for one more minute, stirring frequently.

    Now add the bowl of vegetables and herbs to the pot along with the raisins, a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. 

    Cook over a medium heat for 6–7 minutes, stirring regularly, until the vegetables have reduced in volume and are beginning to dry out slightly.

    Now add the rice, stirring to incorporate it thoroughly. Finally add the stock with 1 tsp salt. Pop the lid on the pot and place in the oven for 25 minutes. Resist the temptation to peek!

    Remove the pot from the oven, fluff the rice up gently with a fork and then, using a wooden spoon, create four wells in the rice. Crack an egg into each well and sprinkle them with a little salt and black pepper. 

    Scatter the flaked almonds on the rice, around the eggs, and then pop the pot back in the oven, uncovered, for 9–12 minutes depending on how soft you like your eggs.

    Serve sprinkled with some more fresh herbs and the Greek yogurt on the side.

    From Foolproof One-Pot: 60 Simple and Satisfying Recipes by Alan Rosenthal (£12.99, Quadrille), out now

Photography: Rita Platts

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.