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Pilav - Turkish Rice

What would a meal in Turkey be without pilav? It’s one of the most basic, sustaining, and comforting of all Turkish dishes. The Turks cook their rice rather differently than we do in the west. The secret is in the sizzle – which gives it a creamy, buttery, and melt in the mouth consistency and taste. It’s the gastronomic equivalent of sinking into a huge armchair in front of a roaring log fire.

If any dish can be said to form the basis, the very foundation of Turkish cuisine, then pilav is it. It has a fascinating and ancient history, and can be found far and wide in countries radiating out from the Middle East, with a subtle change of vowels or consonants – plov in Uzbekistan, pilau in India, pilaf in Albania…

Travel around Turkey and you’ll savour its delicate flavours and reassuring texture in every possible kind of hostelry, from the most lowly of local eateries, to the poshest Istanbul restaurant. Eat in a village lokanta and you’ll enjoy a mound of steaming hot pilav adorned with a spoonful of juicy chickpeas or beans poured over the top – a veritable meal in itself. Dine in an upperclass hotel, and you’ll find the humble pilav, primped and preened, but still served as a soothing side dish. It is the faultless staple in any Turkish meal.


Turkish Pilav – pure, plain, and perfect.

Ingredients (serves 4):

3 glasses of rice (a normal kitchen glass will do, approx 225 or 250 ml)
3 tablespoons butter (real butter gives the flavour, margarine is not a substitute)
3 glasses of water or stock (chicken stock works particularly well, and helps conjure the authentic taste)
2 teaspoons salt


1: Rinse the rice in a sieve under cold water. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with hot salted water. Let this stand until cool. Wash again thoroughly in cold water (the water should run clear) and drain well.

2: Melt the butter in a saucepan until it just starts to sizzle, before it turns brown. Add the rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes stirring continuously.

3: Pour the stock or water into the pan, bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer on a low heat. Don’t stir the pilav whilst cooking! Cook until the rice has absorbed all the water (10-15 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste.

4: Take the pan off the heat, and remove the lid. Place a clean kitchen towel over the pot, and then replace the lid. Leave to “brew” for 5-10 minutes. Then serve.

If you like your rice extra fluffed, you can use a wooden spoon or fork to stir it up a little before serving.

Some natural yoghurt and chopped spring onions make for a yummy aside.

Variations on a theme

Pilav can be added to and embellished in so many different ways. You can mix in mushrooms (Mantarli pilavı), add in chickpeas (Nohutlu pilavı), or do away with the rice altogether and use cracked wheat instead (bulgur pilavı). Here’s a couple of other tasty pilav alternatives for once you’ve mastered the basics.

Pilav with peas

Pilav recipe and quantities as above

Extra ingredients: 150 g peas

Boil the peas or sauté them in butter until tender. Follow the recipe for the rice as above until point 3. When you turn down the heat after boiling, add the peas, stir in quickly, and then continue to follow the basic recipe.


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