Quick onion Pilaf

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a main dish, more if part of an elaborate meal

Appears in

This is a quick way of turning yesterday’s rice into a simple flavored pilaf. It’s a little moister than a classic pulao, and quite heavily flavored. The recipe starts with plain cooked rice and tosses it with a succulent blend of simmered onions, minced ginger, and fresh jalapeños. The result is an appetizing mound of fragrant, pale-yellow rice dotted with soft tumeric-tinted onions and bright flecks of green chile, and topped with toasted cashews. Serve as a main dish with a yogurt sauce (a pachadi or raita) and a salad or, more elaborately, with a kebab as well. Total preparation time is twenty minutes.


  • ¼ cup raw cashew nuts or cashew pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
  • ¼ teaspoon asafetida (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 5 fresh or dried curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 4 jalapeño chiles or 2 cayenne chiles, minced (see Note)
  • 1 pound onions (3 to 4), thinly sliced into rings or half circles
  • teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 cups cooked white rice (basmati, American long-grain, or gobindavog)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice


Place a heavy skillet over high heat, add the cashews, and dry-roast, stirring constantly, until golden. Remove from the heat and continue stirring for about 15 seconds, then transfer to a plate.

Place all the ingredients beside your stovetop.

Heat the oil or ghee in a large heavy pot over high heat. When it is hot, add the asafetida and stir briefly to dissolve it, then toss in the mustard seeds and stir. Cover the pot as they pop; when they have finished popping, add the turmeric and stir. Toss in the curry leaves, ginger, chiles, and onions and stir to coat with the oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are softened and starting to brown.

Stir in the salt and sugar, then add the rice, turning and stirring with a spatula to break up any lumps and mix well. Handle the rice gently so the grains stay intact and don’t get broken or mushy. Continue turning and stirring until the pilaf is well heated and mixed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lime juice and stir and turn for another 30 seconds, then mound on a platter. Top with the cashews and serve.


We recently tasted a version of this pulao prepared with aval, flattened rice, at our friend Molly’s house. We’d seen aval for sale in Indian groceries, but had never known how straightforward it was to cook with, nor how delicious to eat. Molly, who is a wise woman from Kerala, tells us that aval is prepared with parboiled rice that is then crushed or smashed flat and dried to white flakes. To prepare it, rinse well in warm water, then add to the pan instead of cooked rice. It will swell up and become very rice-like as it absorbs water and flavorings.