Vegetarian rice pilaf, studded with cranberries, apples, and pecans is a fun and festive side dish that’s perfect for winter and fall. Make it in a rice cooker, Instant Pot, or on the stovetop! Your whole family will beg you to make it again and again.
This rice pilaf recipe is a celebration of flavor!
If you’re looking for a new side dish, you have to try this cranberry rice pilaf!
It has so much flavor and texture and is sure to spruce up your mealtime routine next time you’re in a rut. Dried cranberries have a bold, sweet flavor that matches so well with nutty brown rice, while fresh herbs keep things feeling light and fresh.
You can serve this vegetarian pilaf any time, but I especially love making it in the fall when apples are in season.
It’s the perfect comforting side dish to go with roasted meats–I love making it with pork chops for an easy weeknight dinner. It’s also delicious served as a bed for roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts or broccoli rabe.
This cranberry rice pilaf is also a great holiday potluck dish since it can be made in advance and transported easily. The apple and cranberry flavors make it a festive choice and it can even work as a gluten-free stand-in for traditional Thanksgiving stuffing.
You’re going to love it!
Ingredients for cranberry rice pilaf
This rice pilaf recipe is made with healthy, wholesome ingredients. I kept things vegetarian and gluten-free for maximum versatility. To make it, you’ll need:
- Rice. I love using a blend of wild rice and brown rice, for it’s nutty flavor and varies texture. You could also use white and/or red rice if that’s your preference.
- Vegetable Broth. Cooking the rice in vegetable broth infuses it with flavor. If you have homemade veggie stock, that would be delicious here. Otherwise, I just use a carton of low-sodium vegetable broth.
- Butter. I love the richness that butter adds to this recipe. It balances out the sweet flavors from the dried cranberries and apple. If you’re avoiding dairy, you can substitute coconut oil for a vegan dish.
- Shallots. Shallots are a little bit onion-y, but milder and sweeter. You can use yellow onions if you don’t have any on hand, just cut them into small dice.
- Apples. I love using a tart apple like Granny Smith to balance the sweetness of the cranberries and brown rice.
- Dried Cranberries. Dried cranberries have a great sweet-tart flavor that really shine in this pilaf. Look for unsweetened varieties without added sugars.
- Pecans. Pecans add a great crunch!
- Fresh Herbs. Parsley and thyme make this pilaf taste bright and fresh! I also like adding some tarragon, which has a slightly sweet, licorice-like flavor, similar to fennel. You can leave it out if you don’t like it, but it really adds something special to this recipe.
Pro Tip: Rinsing the rice before cooking it washes away some of the starch, helping achieve fluffier rice with separate grains that don’t stick to each other.
How to make vegetarian rice pilaf
Cooking the rice separately from the vegetables results in the best rice pilaf texture since you can make sure each component is perfectly cooked. This means fluffy rice, soft, caramelized shallots, and apples that still have a bit of crunch.
It also means that you have a decision to make: you can cook the rice in a rice cooker, boil it on the stovetop, or cook it in an Instant Pot. You can even use leftover rice (or Trader Joe’s frozen rice medley) if you have any!
To cook Brown rice in a rice cooker:
Rinse the rice ad then it to your rice cooker along with the broth. Give everything a good stir, then turn the rice cooker on. The device will automatically sense the humidity levels inside the cooker, and will turn off (or to warm) when the rice is cooked perfectly. Cooking time will depend on your rice cooker, but it will generally take about an hour to cook two cups of brown rice.
To cook brown rice on the stovetop:
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, cover, and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
To Cook Brown Rice in an Instant Pot:
To cook brown rice in your Instant Pot, add the rice to your pot along with 2 1/2 cups of broth. Stir well, then lock the lid in place and cook under high pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally–this will take another 20 minutes or so.
How should i store this rice pilaf?
This rice dish is best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. The rice might dry out a little bit, but you can rehydrate it by adding 1/4 cup of water or broth when you reheat it.
This recipe can also be frozen for up to 6 months, but be aware that the apples will soften significantly.
Can I eat the leftovers cold?
Yes! I actually love eating this pilaf as a chilled. It’s delicious as is, but for more of a grain salad feel mix in a little white wine vinegar.
Why is my pilaf mushy?
If your rice is too watery, you likely used too much broth. Depending on how much extra liquid there is, you can either drain it or simmer it uncovered for a few minutes to let the broth reduce.
More healthy side dish recipes
- Healthy Broccoli Casserole
- Fresh Green Bean Casserole
- Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad
- Roast Frozen Vegetables
- Black Rice Salad with Green Mango and Avocado
- Kimchi Fried Rice
- Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
- Cauliflower Rice “Risotto”
Vegetarian Rice Pilaf with Apples and Cranberries
- 2 cups wild and brown rice blend
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 3 shallots diced
- 2 apples (preferably Granny Smith) diced
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- ⅓ cup pecans chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon chopped
- Rinse the rice well under cold water. Add to a rice cooker along with the broth. Stir and turn on to cook. (If you do not have a rice cooker, bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the rice and turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, then let stand for 5 minutes before removing the lid and fluffing with a fork.)
- Meanwhile, add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat
- Add the diced shallots and for cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until soft and lightly golden brown.
- Stir in the apples, cranberries and pecans and remove from the heat.
- Stir in the cooked rice and sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.