One Pan pea pilaf

This one-pot vegetarian pilaf, fully-loaded with cauliflower, carrots, peas and corn, will satisfy on even the coldest nights.

PSSSST…. I have a confession: recipes make me nervous.

I know that seems an odd statement, considering you’re about to read one of mine, but there’s something about the finality of following someone else’s steps that really doesn’t suit my composition (I’m a Gemini).

The kind of dishes I’m far more drawn to are those ‘pinch of this, punch of flavour of choice’ types, where you fill in the gaps. But I also know that that’s the privilege of muscle memory in the kitchen. The more time you spend there, the more you can throw the rule book out the window.

That’s why I love pilaf. Pulao, plov, paella… If it’s a fully-loaded, one-pan rice dish, chances are, ‘tis but a rose by any other name. And for every iteration, there are infinite ifs and maybes. “If you don’t have this, try that,” or, “maybe a handful here,” and the like. It’s no surprise that the earliest ‘recipe’ for pilaf, was more a list of variations and substitutions, by Persian scholar Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) in the 10th century, than a step-by-step. And even less surprising that it appears in one of his medical texts, considering it’s also the kind of heart-warming, kishke-coating carb-loads that satisfies on even the coldest of nights.

The cuisines you’ll find versions of pilaf in are known for their heady aromatics – no accident, since it travelled along The Spice Trail. But one they’ll likely have never used is the lurid yellow, swirled-through-egg in the 70s mix we know of as ‘curry powder’. For anyone with a designated spice shelf, the deepest darkest corner is usually reserved for a bottle, or more likely, tin can, of the stuff – even though the furthest place you should be keeping it from is an actual curry-in-progress! So what to do with it?

After you’ve tried popping curry powder into your pilaf, you might like to use up some more in mayonnaise-based salad dressings, creamy vegetable soups (both cauliflower and pumpkin come to mind), and even in dry marinades and spice rubs for meat, fish, poultry, tofu, and fleshier vegetables, like eggplant.

Once you’ve polished off the tin, you might like to try flavouring your pilaf with a heady heaping of Seven Spice, or a textural Panch Phoron, tempered just so with the rice. Yours might use ghee instead of oil, or the schmaltz (dripping) and pan juices from your last roast chicken. The vegetables can change with the seasons – strips of pumpkin, or sweet potato to replace the carrot. Maybe beans, broccoli or brussels sprouts instead of – or as well as – the cauli. You might even like to pop in some bits of leftover roast veg (or meat!) to flavour your rice. You can top it with nuts, or blobs of yoghurt. In fact, you could even try making a dessert-y pilaf, a specialty of Uzbekistan, where the rice is flavoured with dried fruit, sweet spices and honey.

I’d love to know what you do with your pilaf – it might just get added to our repertoire too.

One Pan Pea Pilaf

This simple set-and-forgetter is perfect for whacking together with veg from the fridge and freezer, plus spices from the back of the pantry. Feel free to play with the spicing once you get your head around the steps.


  • 4 tbsp 60ml oil
  • 6 shallots banana or French, soaking in cold water
  • 1/2 small cauliflower
  • 1.5 cup long grain basmati rice
  • 2 teaspoons salt flakes
  • 1.5 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 3-4 garlic cloves crushed
  • 500 ml vegetable stock and another cup of water added to cover the rice
  • 3 Dutch small-ish carrots
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • Good crack of pepper
  • Lemon cheeks and soft herbs like coriander or parsley, if you’re that way inclined to serve


  • Drain shallots, lop off the top and bottom, then create two cuts lengthwise to split each shallot into 4. Peel off the skins.
  • Cup the cauliflower curd in your palm and pull the florets off towards yourself so that they snap off the stalk at their natural point. Halve any florets bigger than golf ball size.
  • Peel the carrots of their skin (save this for stock!), then use the same peeler to strip long ribbons off the carrots. Any mangy bits that are too hard to peel are to be munched on as ‘chef snacks’ as you cook or handed off to any tiny fists in your vicinity.
  • Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan (that has a lid) for 2-3 minutes on medium, until your hovering palm feels the emanating warmth.
  • Pour in half of the olive oil and add the shallots and cauliflower florets to the pan, making an effort to let as much of the veg access the pan’s surface as possible. Sauté on medium-high for 5 minutes until the shallots are coloured and cauliflower burnished. Pull out the cauliflower with tongs and reserve.
  • Add rice to the shallots in the pan, pour in the rest of the olive oil, and stir in garlic, curry powder, sugar and salt. Swish the contents around to get friendly on a medium heat, the rice going glossy and the shallots softening further.
  • Pour stock and water over the contents of the pan, add cauliflower and carrot strips, and bring everything to the boil. At this point, drop the heat to very low. If your pan looks anything like mine (heavy, lidded, little chance of steam escaping) pop the lid on, set the timer for 15 minutes and walk away. Spin some salad leaves, stir some other pots – just generally live your life. If you’re at all concerned about the capacity for your pan’s lid to handle the heat, pop a layer of foil over the top of the pan, then squash the lid down (this is also a neat trick if you’re ever cooking rice in a dodgy pot using the absorption method).
  • After 15 minutes, return to the pan, add the corn and peas on top, set the timer for another 5 minutes and then walk away again.
  • When this timer goes off, return to the pan, stir the contents about, taste and correct for seasoning (this means adding an extra pinch of salt or two), then whack the lid back on and leave it off the heat for another 10. This should give any residual liquid a chance to absorb and any rice granules left on the edges to get themselves tidied up.
  • To serve, arrange lemon cheeks (around the pan if serving at the table, or on each plate) and then garnish with herbs from a height.


This recipe was produced in partnership with ABC Everyday.