Tanzanian Pilau Rice

Pilau with toasted cashews
Pilau rice with cashews. F. Muyambo
  • 30 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Tanzanian pilau rice is often difficult to separate from its Indian roots. However, when it comes to African cuisine, pilau is ​East Africa's ubiquitous rice dish and it often extends beyond its coastline from Zanzibar into the Indian ocean islands such as Mauritius. Tanzanian pilau has slight nuances from its Indian counterpart. Other pilau recipes will often include bay leaves, saffron, ground coriander seed and turmeric, however, Tanzanian pilau recipes often use 5 distinct spices to make the pilau masala. These are black peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Furthermore, spices, especially cloves, are used more generously in Tanzania. Shifting slightly north ​into the Horn of Africa, you will find that cardamom is much more popular.

Pilau can be made as a simple vegetable dish or can be combined with beef, lamb or chicken to produce a full one-pot meal. When made as a whole pot meal, sometimes with the addition of tomatoes, one could say the outcome is very similar to the West African counterpart rice dish, jollof. However, the two meals are not the same and the Indian spices used in East Africa makes this dish distinctively different from jollof rice. Pilau is much more comparable to the Somali bariis iskukaris. As this is the introductory recipe for pilau, I will keep it simple by providing the vegetarian version. If you would like to add something special to the dish, you could spice things up a bit by adding some toasted cashews. 

What You'll Need

  • 2 tablespoons butter or ghee
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove or garlic
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 to 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups of Basmati rice
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 2 cups of vegetable stock or boiling water

How to Make It

1. Finely dice the onion and garlic and wash the rice to remove excess starch. In a heavy based pot, heat up the butter or ghee and fry the onions until golden.

2. Add the rice to the pot and stir until coated with the fat. Add the garlic and spices to the pot and allow the spices to release their fragrance. This should take less than a minute.

3. Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock or water, and bring to a boil.

You will need to stir a couple of times to ensure the onions and spices are evenly distributed.

4. After 5 minutes, reduce the heat to low, cover firmly with a lid and allow the rice to cook by the absorption method for 15 minutes.

5. Fluff the rice then serve hot with a curry and a side of salad.