Spiced Pilau Rice with Beets Recipe

When I returned to Paris after two years of fabulous eats in California, one of the things I missed the most was good Indian food. Since India produces excellent engineers, many of them end up working for Silicon Valley companies, and we made friends with one of them who was kind enough to invite us to dinner now and then. His wife, a fine cook with no work visa, would then spend the day cooking for us, to our collective delight and eternal gratitude.

The memory of those meals has made me particularly fond of family-style Indian cooking, the kind you can practice at home without too much complication, and without chasing a million ingredients around the La Chapelle neighborhood*. This may be paradoxical, but I find these dishes particularly welcome in colder months — probably because of the warmth of their flavors and the richness of their spices, as evidenced by today’s recipe.

Easy Spiced Beet Pilau: Ingredients

What I want to share today is a super easy spiced pilau rice, a rice dish that you cook in a skillet. I add in diced beets, for the gorgeous color and the earthy sweetness, and to get a complete meal with just. one. pan. to clean. From beginning to end, it can be ready in twenty minutes (half an hour, tops) so it’s perfect for those weeknight dinners when you’re trying to decide if you’re more exhausted or famished.

Scoop this into a bowl, scatter a few fresh herbs and cashews on top, put a fork in it, and settle down in your favorite dinner chair. Deep breath… All is well now.

Easy Spiced Beet Pilau

I want more India in my kitchen!

If you share my enthusiasm, I recommend this winter vegetable curry and this easy fish curry with tomatoes and coconut. And if you want to add an Indian cookbook to your culinary library, let me put in a good word for Meera Sodha’s absolutely charming Made in India.

About the cinnamon I use

I am in love with the fresh cinnamon I order from Cinnamon Hill, a small company that specializes in sourcing and selling the highest-quality, freshest cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Vietnam (ordinary cinnamon usually comes from China or Indonesia). I get whole sticks, and grate them with the beautifully crafted (and highly giftable!) cinnamon grater that Cinnamon Hill has designed. Truly, you don’t know what cinnamon tastes like until you’ve tried freshly harvested, freshly grated, top-grade cinnamon, and it makes an amazing difference in this recipe.

* The “Little India” neighborhood (actually more Sri Lankan) around the La Chapelle metro station, between the 18th and the 10th arrondissement of Paris, is home to dozens of restaurants and markets that should make you very happy.

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Spiced Pilau Rice with Beets Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves 4.

Spiced Pilau Rice with Beets Recipe


  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (see note on spices below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated cinnamon (I use fresh cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill)
  • The seeds from 4 cardamom pods
  • 180 grams (1 cup) white basmati rice (see note on substituting brown basmati rice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 280 grams (10 ounces) raw beet (1/2 large one), peeled and cut into 1-cm (1/3-inch) cubes
  • 360 ml (1 1/2 cups) vegetable or chicken stock, homemade if available
  • 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) cashews, roughly chopped, for serving
  • Fresh cilantro or chervil, roughly chopped, for serving


  1. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add in the spices (fennel seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom seeds) and heat for a few seconds, until they start to pop.
  2. Easy Spiced Beet Pilau: Toasting the spices
  3. Add the rice and salt, stir to combine, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rice becomes translucent.
  4. Easy Spiced Beet Pilau: Coating the rice
  5. Add the beets and stir to combine.
  6. Easy Spiced Beet Pilau: Adding the beet
  7. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat so it will remain at just a low simmer, cover, and cook without stirring until all the stock is absorbed; this will take 10 to 15 minutes depending on your rice.
  8. Easy Spiced Beet Pilau: Simmering
  9. Taste for doneness (if the rice isn't cooked through, add a few tablespoons stock and cook for a few more minutes), adjust the seasoning, and serve, with a scatter of cashews and fresh herbs.


  • Don't be intimidated by the spices I use here! They're excellent ones to keep in your spice rack, and if you buy them whole they will keep virtually forever. But if you don't have them right now, simply replace the spices with 2 teaspoons good-quality curry powder, and add it in with the rice (no toasting necessary).
  • If you want to substitute brown basmati rice, use 500 ml (2 cups) stock and allow to cook for 45 to 50 minutes, depending on your rice.


Easy Spiced Beet Pilau

  • What a beautiful colour. I love Indian food and do miss that here in Dordogne:(

  • Annabel Smyth

    I simply can’t eat beetroot – they keep giving it to me and saying “You’ll like it done like this”, but it always tastes of beetroot, so I never do like it! So what would you substitute if you were going to serve this to a beetroot-hater like myself? Sweet potato? Swede? Parsnip?

    • Any root vegetable would work well here! Especially carrots and sweet potatoes, for the flavor and the nice mix of color.

      • Annabel Smyth

        Carrots would be good, I think. Incidentally, I keep trying to send you what you asked for, and it keeps bouncing; sent from another account, so could you check your spam filter?

  • egg

    I made this tonight, it was so great! I stirred in some peas at the end.

    • Ooh, I like the addition of peas! Will try it next time. Thanks for reporting back!

  • I love Indian food, I used to eat a lot of it while living in London, but you cannot really get it here in Germany. So I bought lots of Indian cookbooks and cook it myself. Never had anything Indian made with beets, I love beets, so I am definitely trying this dish.

  • Samantha George

    Neither my roomie nor I can tolerate beets, but we’re trying this recipe tonight because we love all the spices in it. The only thing I was missing from my pantry was the coconut oil (ran out awhile ago and hadn’t replaced it til this morning)–and I’ll be substituting roasted pine nuts for the cashews. I’m making Madhur Jaffrey’s silken chicken to go along with it. Will let you know how two dishes complement each other.

    • Samantha George

      And we’re back.

      Last night’s dinner was great. So great that the roomie asked me to make it again tonight. These two dishes complement each other well.

      I increased the amount of stock to about 1 3/4 cups to make up for missing whatever moisture we lost from not including the beets. It cooked up perfectly. Roasted pine nuts were a lovely, crunchy substitute for cashews.

      Whilst the rice was simmering, I put the silken chicken in the oven (after having marinated it for about six hours), and it came out at the same time the rice was ready.

      The lemony, spicy astringency of the silken chicken blended beautifully with the warm almost buttery spicy flavors of the pilau. The roomie was in raptures and went back for seconds, thus necessitating a second go ’round with dinner.

      • That’s wonderful to hear, Samantha, thank you for sharing what seems to have been a super successful dinner! If you’re ever looking for a new roommate I think you won’t have trouble finding one with that kind of cooking. ;)

  • jayjaytee

    I have the “I hate cilantro gene” (yes, it’s really a thing) and the licorice taste of chervil puts me off. Plain parsley instead? And any neutral oil if I don’t have coconut available?

  • Sunny days are amazing when you’re in the mood to get out and ENJOY life! But cloudy days are a good excuse to stay in and cook and snuggle ;) Love how puffy and cheesy this quiche looks. yuuuuum!

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