Serbian Rice Pilaf

One of the tastiest rice recipes in Serbian cuisine is the rice pilaf. However even though Pilaf or Pilav (in Serbian) is very present in our culture, it is not a traditional Serbian dish. It was left behind as a heritage from the Turks during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Nonetheless, this Serbian Rice Pilaf recipe was a very common meal during my childhood, it was part of my mothers cooking repertoire. I loved, and still love its creamy texture, fresh taste and vibrant colors from the vegetables. To make this recipe, all you need is one pot and all of the ingredients, it really is a fuss-free recipe! My version of the Serbian Rice Pilaf is a delicious and easy recipe, made even better with the addition of Vegeta seasoning. Give this Serbian Rice Pilaf a go next time you wish to try a different version of this traditional dish.

WHAT IS RICE PILAF

The actual word “Pilaf” is commonly claimed to be a product of Ancient Persia, which bordered ancient India and probably imported rice farming around 1000 B.C. to 500 B.C. The first surviving use of the word Pilaf is the ancient Persian word “Pilāv” which describes a dish where grains are boiled in broth. Rice Pilaf is also known as “pilau”, “pilav”, “pulao” or “pilaw”.

For me, Serbian Rice Pilaf is the simplest version of the dish – white rice cooked with some olive oil, chopped onion, garlic, carrots and then simmered in broth. It is one step up from rice cooked in plain water, but not so elaborate that you can’t put it together in a delicious way.

 You can make pilafs using other grains such as wild rice, orzo, or lentils. Along with the onion, you can mix in peas, chopped peppers, or sautéed mushrooms. Spice it up with seasonings that suit your tastes. Most cultural cuisines have their own set of preferred spices and herbs.

There are many variations of pilaf, from the Balkans, Turkey to central Asia and India which add meat, fruit and vegetables, even substitute the rice for other grains. However, I am sharing with you the simplest traditional Serbian version. Lightly seasoned, fluffy and creamy rice pilaf.

Serbian Rice Pilaf in a pot

WHAT IS THE BEST RICE TO USE FOR RICE PILAF?

For this Serbian Rice Pilaf recipe, you will want to use a long grain white rice. My personal favorite is Jasmine rice which is a type of long-grain white rice. You can easily purchase it at your grocery store next to the other varieties of rice. You can also use Basmati Rice. There is also brown rice, which traditionally is not used as it does take longer to cook. Brown rice also may result in a slightly chewy rice pilaf which for me, seems at odds with the tradition of the dish itself.

TIPS FOR THE BEST RICE PILAF

If you’ve made pilaf before and it’s flopped, I know how you feel! It can be frustrating, and trust me, I’ve been there too as rice and I have had our troubles too! But if you follow some useful tips you are sure to end up with a recipe that does not disappoint.

  • Rinse & drain the rice thoroughly – Rice contains a lot of starch which will cause the rice to stick together and can even make it mushy once cooked. It is beneficial to remove the extra starch from the rice by rinsing it with cool water before use.
  • If liquid evaporates before rice is done – Then, add just a little bit more water, keeping in mind that the rice will continue to steam for 10 minutes once it’s removed from heat.
  • If rice is still wet – Don’t worry, it will continue to absorb the water 10 minutes while it is steaming.  When you remove the lid after 10 minutes, you can let the rice sit an additional 5-10 minutes to dry out.
  • Salt and pepper to taste – Rice soaks up salt so if you feel like your pilaf is missing something – it could be salt. Be sure to taste your rice first before seasoning!
  • Avoid peaking while rice is cooking – Escaped heat compromises the cooking of the rice. However you may need to add in extra water, so only open the lid if you really need to.
  • Rest the rice undisturbed – After cooking, let the rice sit for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. This is when the rice finishes cooking and becomes fluffy!

HOW DO I STORE RICE PILAF?

  • Refrigerate: Let the rice pilaf cool to room temperature then transfer to a airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezer: Rice pilaf can also be frozen. Be sure to let the rice cool completely before transferring to a freezer in a safe airtight container. Let the pilaf thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in the microwave or stove.
Serbian Rice Pilaf in a bowl

SERBIAN RICE PILAF RECIPE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 diced carrots
  • 4 or 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 300 g long grain rice
  • 100 g frozen baby peas
  • 2 tsp Vegeta
  • 2 tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 cups of water + an extra cup if needed

Instructions:

  • Heat olive oil in a nonstick pot, add onions and sauté for roughly 3 minutes until they soften, stirring often.
  • Add the chopped garlic and diced carrots and sauté for a further 3 minutes.
  • Fill the pot with 6 cups of water, add the spices – vegeta, ground paprika, marjoram, salt & pepper to taste, as well as the chicken drumsticks. Cook for 20 minutes on medium heat with a closed lid.
  • Once the chicken drumsticks have cooked, remove them into a separate bowl and set aside. You will add them back in later.
  • To the pot, add in the rice & frozen peas. Stir until all ingredients are evenly spread and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat with a closed lid. If you need to, add in an extra cup of water. However if you do not, let the rice cook without opening the lid.
  • Once the rice has cooked, add the chicken drumsticks back on top of the pilaf. Close the lid, and lest sit for 10 minutes on low heat with the lid closed. The rice should look golden and delicious!
  • Once the rice and chicken are cooked, let the pot sit aside for a further 10 minutes with the stove off.
  • Bring the whole dish to the table and serve with a really big spoon 😊.

Recipe Notes: You can garnish the recipe with some fresh parley. I did not have any on hand but it does add an extra bit of seasoning. You can also serve the dish with some grated cheese which I am sure your loved ones will find delicious!

Serbian Rice Pilaf on a plate

I hope this recipe has sent some cooking inspiration your way 😊! Give this Serbian Rice Pilaf a go next time you wish to try a different version of this historical & traditional dish. Comment your thoughts below or tag me over on Instagram @thehomeharvest with any recipes you try ❤️