Tanzanian Pilau Rice

Seasoned Pilau with beans

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  • Total: 30 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
423 Calories
14g Fat
67g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Amount per serving
Calories 423
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 18%
Saturated Fat 11g 55%
Cholesterol 10mg 3%
Sodium 173mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 67g 24%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Protein 9g
Calcium 95mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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, we 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. 


  • 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

Steps 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.

  6. Enjoy!