This healthier, homemade version of rice pilaf is a versatile gluten-free side dish for so many meals. Made on the stovetop with nutty basmati rice and gluten-free capellini noodles it can also be made vegetarian. This is a better version of stuff in a box.
Be sure to check out more of my gluten-free side dishes including my roasted brussels sprouts with a sweet and savory vanilla garlic butter, gluten-free quinoa yam “stuffing”, roasted tomato and garlic quinoa and ginger sesame broccoli.
Is Rice Gluten-Free?
YES! Rice is completely gluten-free including white, brown, jasmine, basmati, arborio, glutinous rice and wild rice. And it doesn’t (usually) have cross-contamination issues like some other grains. The problem comes with many of the store-bought rice pilaf brands which contain wheat. Those perfectly delicious, thin bits of noodles in rice pilaf contain wheat flour.
The most well-known and popular brand has wheat as the first ingredient and unfortunately more than a couple of artificial preservatives. So this homemade pilaf is gluten-free and only uses ingredients YOU and I would use in our food!
The best rice to use for pilaf is basmati rice. It has a wonderful nutty aroma and much more flavor than plain white rice. Jasmine rice is another excellent, tasty option that has a similar but slightly floral aroma.
What is Rice Pilaf?
Most of us think of rice pilaf as the stuff that comes in a box with noodles in it. But technically the term “pilaf” is all about the cooking method, not the ingredients.
Pilaf means that the rice is toasted in oil (or other fat) before adding the liquid. This toasting brings out the nutty flavor in rice. In this recipe the gluten-free noodles are also toasted before any water hits the pot.
What to Serve with Rice Pilaf
Rice pilaf is such a perfect side dish for so many meals. Pair it with salmon and broccoli for a Mediterranean meal. Serve it with grilled, roasted or chicken kebabs with a side of sautéed mushrooms. Top it with grilled shrimp in a chili lime marinade. See below for several variations on how to flavor this rice pilaf for different cuisines.
Rice pilaf usually uses vermicelli noodles, which are made from a starchy wheat flour. Some vermicelli noodles are made with all rice flour, but I find them to be too thin for rice pilaf. The best noodles for this recipe are capellini, also known as angel hair. They are not always easy to find, but Jovial makes an excellent gluten-free capellini that holds up to the toasting and boiling. Le Veneziane also makes a capellini and is another excellent brand of gluten-free pasta.
If you cannot find capellini, spaghetti will work too. The noodle is a little bit thicker but is still a good substitute.
Vegetarian Rice Pilaf
Rice pilaf is usually made with chicken broth as the liquid. This is part of what gives the dish its distinctive savory flavor. An excellent vegetarian option (also vegan) is Imagine No Chicken Broth. It is the only veggie broth I use. Most other veggie broths taste too much like carrots and don’t lend the right flavor. Regardless of which broth you use, be sure to use a low sodium one so that you can better control the salt level of the dish.
Rice Pilaf Variations
This rice pilaf can be a side dish with so many different cuisines, The flavors of garlic and onion can go Italian, Latin, Asian, Mediterranean. Here are some additions to take this dish in different directions:
- Italian – Add 1/4 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme with the garlic and onion powders. While the rice is cooking sauté 8 oz sliced crimini (baby portobellos) mushrooms and stir into the cooked rice.
- For an Asian vibe, add 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil and 2 Tbsp coconut aminos or gluten-free soy sauce/tamari to the fully cooked rice Top with toasted slivered almonds.
- Latin inspired – Add 1 tsp ground cumin and a pinch of red chili flakes with the garlic and onion powders. Then add 1 Tbsps tomato paste with the broth.
- Add 2 Tbsps lemon juice and chopped 1/2 c Kalamata olives for a Mediterranean pilaf.
Stovetop Gluten-Free Basmati Rice Pilaf
- Imagine No-Chicken Broth (for vegetarian pilaf)
- 1 c white basmati or jasmine rice
- ¼ c cappellini noodles broken in to 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tsp oil
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder NOT garlic salt
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 pinches finely ground black pepper pepper
- 1 dried bay leaf (optional)
- 2 c + 2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
- 1-2 stalks chopped green onion
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
- This process goes pretty quickly. So gather all of the ingredients and have them ready at the stovetop before you start cooking.
- Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water for 30 seconds. Gently shake the strainer to get the water out. Set the strainer on an absorbent kitchen towel
- Heat a 2 -3 quart pot over medium high heat for a minute. Add the oil and heat another 30 seconds.
- Add the broken noodles and cook, stirring constantly,
- After about a minute the noodles will start to turn a not so pretty white. This is normal. Keep stirring until they start to brown.
- Pour in the rice and stir thoroughly. Then stir every 10 seconds for about a minute. The rice will also turn a brighter white,
- Add the butter, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and stir for about a minute.
- Add all of the liquid and the bay leaf. Turn up the heat and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Then turn the heat as low as it will go, and cover the pot.
- Cook for 18-20 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. To check, use a fork to gently push aside a little bit of the rice so you can see the bottom of the pot – do not stir. If there is water left or some moisture, continue cooking.
- Remove the pot from the heat and remove the bay leaf.
- If you are serving it immediately, stir in the fresh parsley and chopped green onion. If not using right away, I recommend adding the parsley and green onion right before serving.
- This dish will stay fresh in the fridge for about 1 week. To freeze, cool the rice completely then place in a freezer zip top bag. It will stay fresh in the freezer for at least 3 months.