Istanbuli Pilau

Nura’s recipe

Istanbuli pilau is very similar to what we Americans call “Spanish Rice.” If you prefer this dish spicier, increase the quantities of tabasco, cinnamon and turmeric.

This rice is especially good when served the second day, as the flavors blend and the rice firms up.

Servings: About 6

Ingredients for Istanbuli pilau

2 c. uncooked rice

1/2-1 lb. chuck steak

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

10 oz. can green beans

1 T. oil

1 med. onion, chopped

Cinnamon (1-2 t.)

Turmeric (1-2 t.)

Lemon juice (to taste)

Tabasco sauce (to taste)

1 t. sugar


Step 1: Use the “Basic Rice” method of cooking the rice, following through the boiling and rinsing step, except shorten the boiling time; the rice should be a little firm as it will absorb liquid from the tomato sauce during steaming.   

Step 2: Cut the meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the meat and onion, sprinkling the mixture with some salt, and equal amounts of turmeric and cinnamon. 

Step 3: Add the beans (drained) and tomato sauce. Sprinkle the mixture with tabasco, lemon and sugar for spiciness and tartness. Simmer 15 minutes, then remove from heat. 

Step 4: Add the boiled and rinsed rice to the meat/tomato mixture, and gently mix together. 

Step 5: In a 4-quart saucepan, add 1-2 T. oil and heat the pan on medium-high. Spoon the rice mixture into the preheated pan. Cover the pan with a paper towel, but do not put the lid on. 

Step 6: Cook at medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then turn the heat to low for 30-40 minutes. NOTE: Do not add extra water to the rice before steaming! The rice may need to be gently “turned” a few times during steaming to prevent the bottom layer from becoming mushy.

Variation: This variation utilizes ground beef and cabbage instead of chuck steak and green beans. Fry ~1 lb. ground beef. Remove the beef from the pan. Stir-fry 2-3 c. chopped green cabbage, 1 medium chopped onion, and the same spices as in Istanbuli polo. Stir together the beef, cabbage and tomato sauce. Mix the boiled and rinsed rice with the sauce mixture and continue as in the Istanbuli polo recipe.

Recipe © Nura Amerson 1991

A plate of pilaf
Istanbuli pilau

Layli’s Reflections

I’ve made this dish a few times, and, since I’m lazy, I’ve developed it into a one-pot meal (inspired by the Betty Crocker recipe for Spanish Rice). First, I fry the onion and meat. Then, I add all the remaining ingredients, plus some water, and simmer until the rice is tender. It’s quite easy, and if you double the recipe, you’ll have enough pilaf to last a week!

Jasmine’s Reflections

I cut almost every corner I could for this recipe. Most notably, instead of following the not-so-basic “Basic Rice” method, I boiled rice normally, stopping it a few minutes before it got soft. For “meat” I used Quorn meatless pieces.

Pilaf in a bowl

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