Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf

My Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf is meant for joyful gatherings ~ it has roots in the ancient cuisines of Persia, India, and Turkey, but I guarantee this pretty gluten free vegan dish will thrill everybody around your table, too!

Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf ~ a gorgeous spring side dish that's gluten free, and vegan!


*This post is in association with Nielsen-Massey ~ a brand that I’ve used and loved since I first learned to cook. Thanks for supporting me and the companies I work with, I promise to bring you only the very best, and they help keep TVFGI up and cooking!

When Nielsen-Massey asked me to develop a recipe around their line of fine flavors I got super excited, partly because I’ve been a huge fan of their products forever, but also because I love to experiment with flavor. You’ve heard me talk about it a lot here…I like to bump up the flavors in my recipes just a little bit beyond the ordinary, and by pushing those boundaries I end up with food that isn’t just delicious, it’s memorable. That’s certainly the case with this Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf.

TIP: Of course you’ve used almond extract in baking, but did you know it can also be used in savory foods? I’ve added a few drops of Nielsen-Massey Pure Almond Extract to take this pilaf to a whole new level. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like dessert, but you’ll get a background note of that gorgeous flavor.

Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf ~ a vegan and gluten free side dish for all your spring gatherings...

Pilaf, or a dish of rice cooked with vegetables (sometimes meat) and spices is a special occasion food found in lots of cuisines, from the Middle East, to Latin America. They can be simple, or elaborate, but basically they’re an inexpensive way to feed a crowd. It’s definitely the pretty toppings that take this side dish into celebration mode. I’ve used traditional garnishes, but you can of course go with what you like. Dried fruits and nuts are common, as well as those to-die-for fried onions. The finely shredded orange peel is a delicious surprise ~ the sophisticated combination of almond and orange is classic!

Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf ~ a vegan and gluten free side dish for all your spring gatherings...

The aroma of this rice is a huge part of why I love it so much, and people who study this stuff say that over 75% of what we taste actually comes from our sense of smell. One whiff of this warm pilaf and you’ll get it. Whenever I cook with almond extract I always take a minute to inhale straight from the bottle. Almond extract is one of the world’s great aromas, so indulge!

Ever wonder why almond extract doesn’t taste like almonds? It’s made with the oil of bitter almonds which is derived from stone fruit pits, so Nielsen Massey almond extract is actually nut free. It’s also cold extracted to preserve all those delicate flavor notes.

Cooking with Nielsen-Massey Pure Almond Extract

Speaking of great aromas, the aroma compounds in authentic Basmati rice are many times more potent than in regular rice, and for a dish like this it’s well worth tracking down. There are lots of varieties of basmati rice, but I highly recommend buying imported rice straight from India or Pakistan. Most stores sell it, just look carefully. Rice labeled ‘basmati’ is not the real deal unless it comes from India or Pakistan. In face its dna has been codified, and like Parmesan cheese or Champagne, it can only come from one region in the world. That helps keep it real.

Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf ~ it's beautiful and full of flavor, vegan, and gluten free, too!

As the rice cooks with the onions, spices, and almond extract, your kitchen is going to smell amazing. This is rice like you’ve never had it before ~ in fact you may want to serve the spiced rice as is, as a side dish for everyday meals. With or without the garnishes, this is fabulous.

Making Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf with Nielsen-Massey almond extract

TIP:Β  To get the pretty yellow and white two toned effect in the rice, like you sometimes get in Indian restaurants, you need to add a bit of saffron infused water after the rice has cooked. Don’t mix the rice completely, let the yellow grains stay separate.

Making Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf with saffron

Check out Nielsen-Massey on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more flavor inspiration and recipes.

Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf, perfect for any occasion!

4 from 9 votes

Fragrant Toasted Almond Pilaf

Author Sue Moran


  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 large onion
  • vegetable oil for frying the onions
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon
  • 15 green cardamom pods crushed
  • 10 dried allspice berries
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil for vegan
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups Basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 -1/2 tsp Nielsen Massey Pure Almond Extract


  • 1/4 cup currents
  • 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded orange rind
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • toasted almonds instructions below
  • fried onions instructions below


  • Put three tablespoons of very hot water in a cup and add the saffron, crushing the threads between your fingers as you add them. Give it a good stir and set aside.
  • Peel and very thinly slice the onion. Separate the rings, and set aside 1/4 of them for frying.
  • Put about an inch of oil in a pan or skillet and heat until quite hot. Working in batches, fry the onions until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
  • Heat a large pan or skillet and toast the almonds for several minutes over medium heat until they turn golden, Keep them moving at all times, and watch carefully so they don't burn. Remove from the pan and set aside. If you like, you can also fry the almonds in the oil, after you fry the onions. Your choice.
  • In the same pan, toast the whole spices for about 5 minutes over medium low heat, moving them almost constantly until they give off their aroma. Grind in a spice grinder. Add the freshly grated nutmeg. Set aside.
  • In the same pan, add the butter and olive oil and saute the remaining onions for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture, according to your taste. 1 teaspoon will be relatively subtle, 2 more assertive. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes. Add an extra tablespoon of oil if it sticks or seems dry.
  • Add the rice, and stir to combine. Saute for a few minutes
  • Add 2 1/2 cups HOT water to the pan along with the salt and almond extract, and stir. Bring up to a boil, then lower the temperature, cover, and let cook, undisturbed, for 12 minutes. Turn off heat but allow to sit for 10 more minutes.
  • Remove the lid and pour the saffron water on PART of the rice. Fluff the rice and pile it on an oblong patter. Don't mix the yellow rice completely into the white, let the colors remain separate.
  • Top with the garnishes and the fried onions. Serve hot.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


  • Now for the rest of your almond extract, you might want to use it in some sweet recipes. I’ve got lots! I recommend my SWEET CHERRY ALMOND BARS, and my TOASTED ALMOND MILKSHAKE, for starters.
  • For those beautifully fine threads of orange zest, use an inexpensive zesting tool like this one.
  • You can also find all sorts of inspiring recipes ~ Mango JalapeΓ±o Sorbet anyone? ~ on the Nielsen-Massey website. Head on over!


Don’t forget to Pin it!

My Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf is meant for joyful gatherings ~ this pretty gluten free vegan dish will thrill everybody around your table! #Persian #pilaf #rice #sidedish #vegansidedish #vegetarian #Thanksgiving #Christmas #holidays #Grains #glutenfreesidedish #healthy #persianrecipe #turkishrecipe #Indianrecipe


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  • Reply
    October 12, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    Hi there, would you be able to give me the measurements of the spices but in ground form? I don’t have a grinder but have the ground form of all the spices. I really want to make this recipe! Thanks Sue!

  • Reply
    October 6, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    This looks stunning!

    Question: In step 8, when adding the rice, what heat should the stove be set at while you let it saute? Also, would vegan butter work in place of real butter? Or could I just omit the butter? I have a guest who can’t eat dairy.

    One last question: if I can’t find saffron, could I use tumeric instead?

    I’m looking forward to trying this out πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      October 6, 2019 at 7:23 pm

      The heat would be a medium low, just like you might cook regular rice. And you can substitute olive oil for the butter, no problem. I assume vegan butter would work fine too. As for the saffron, yes, you can sub in turmeric. Good luck!

  • Reply
    C Miriam Pascual
    December 3, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Hi Sue,
    I made this yesterday for dinner and wow! This was enjoyed by everyone at the table I love the texture, colors and taste. It was the right dish for the different dietary choices, we had a vegan, who had it with orange glazed tofu, a pescatarian who had it with orange glazed salmon, A carnivore who had it with herb roasted chicken. Will definitely do it again and again.

  • Reply
    Gina @Running to the Kitchen
    March 31, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    This is gorgeous! I love the colors!!

  • Reply
    Laura | Tutti Dolci
    March 28, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Just gorgeous, I love all those pretty toppers!

  • Reply
    Katie | Good LIfe Eats
    March 28, 2017 at 7:58 am

    This looks absolutely beautiful! I recently made a very simple almond rice pilaf and it was delicious. I can imagine how fantastic this one would taste. I love all the flavor and texture going on.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2017 at 5:59 am

    That really is a lovely looking pilaf. Love Nielsen Massey!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2017 at 8:46 am

      They’re the best πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    March 28, 2017 at 5:19 am

    This looks amazing! I have read reports though that rice is loaded with unhealthy bacteria, especially as it cools to room temperature. Apparently the bacteria embedded in rice is heat resistant and the after cooking environment causes an expeditious multiplication of the spores. We are cautioned to serve it immediately, never at room temperature and to refrigerate it very quickly. Obviously the organisms’ bloom are only slowed down in the fridge, so leftover rice should be consumed asap. Many restaurants serve rice cooked earlier in the day and reheated which is apparently a terribly risky thing to do. I assume you have heard or read articles on the subject. Do you have any concerns about this? Also, do you know if the rice coming from other countries is more bacteria laden? Or, do you find all this complete nonsense. BTW, I still serve rice dishes, but am much more cautious than I used to be.

    • Reply
      March 28, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Hi Yolie, to be honest I haven’t done the research on this particular issue so I’ll have to check into it. I do tend to be cautious about leaving food out at room temp too long, but I don’t know about rice in particular, or whether imported rice is any riskier than domestic, but I doubt that.

  • Reply
    Robyn Gleason
    March 28, 2017 at 2:49 am

    Oh my gosh, such a treat to land on your site and see a whole new look, Sue. Love it!! Clean, easy to navigate and let’s your photos shine – fabulous!
    Love your dish too. I learned a lot today reading this post but then again, I always learn from you. Your photos are gorgeous! This is a dream for entertaining – can’t wait to make it!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2017 at 8:50 am

      Awww, thanks Robyn πŸ™‚ I’m like a kid in a sandbox with the new site!

  • Reply
    2 sisters recipes
    March 27, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    What a beautiful dish Sue! Love all the ingredients in this pilaf – all the textures and colors – perfect for the holiday. Also great tips, and the almond extract – I made a dessert last week using it and will post it soon! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    March 27, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    The most beautiful looking pilaf I’ve ever seen! It is so inviting Sue!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks Zerrin πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Vicki Bensinger
    March 27, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    This is beautiful Sue. I didn’t realize that their almond extract is actually nut free. Good to know since my sister is allergic to almonds and always mentions not to add even the extract. Next time I’m going to do my research rather than just assuming. Great tips, beautiful photo and it definitely looks like a flavorful dish!

  • Reply
    Tricia @ Saving Room for Dessert
    March 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Oops – I forgot to say how much I LOVE your new look! It’s so pretty, clean and bright and your colorful salads and amazing dishes provide the finishing touches! Good for you!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 11:31 am

      Oh thanks SO much Tricia ~ it’s always scary messing with things, but this turned out great I think!

  • Reply
    Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles
    March 27, 2017 at 8:38 am

    This is such a beautiful dish, with gorgeous flavors. Almond extract is one of my favorites!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Thanks Brenda, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love that flavor, it must be almost universal.

  • Reply
    Platter Talk
    March 27, 2017 at 8:31 am

    All those textures, flavors and aromas in one bowl! What an exciting way to dine.

  • Reply
    Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
    March 27, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Whaddya know – I learned a lot about almond extract. That pilaf has everything going for it. What a beauty to put on the table AND then eat.

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Definitely pretty enough for holiday tables. And the leftovers were fantastic, I had it for dinner the next night with a fried egg on top πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers
    March 27, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Such a lovely and creative dish! and Nielsen Massey products are always on hand in my kitchen πŸ™‚ And totally loving your new look, too πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 8:38 am

      I even love the Nielsen-Massey bottles ~ so pretty! And I’m enjoying my new site design, thanks for noticing πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Rebecca {foodie with family}
    March 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

    I learned so much from this post. I had no idea that almond extract wasn’t made from almonds! I also had no idea that there was terroir involved in basmati rice. Thanks so much for that education! And mercy, but that pilaf looks wonderful. I love all the textures at play here.

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 8:25 am

      The way they make almond extract is fascinating, actually ~ originally it was made from bitter almonds, which are poisonous, so these days they get the same aroma compound from stone fruit pits. In Italy the almonds naturally have a hint of that almond extract flavor ~ clearly a research trip is in order! Thanks for stopping by Rebecca πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Brandi Crawford
    March 27, 2017 at 7:26 am

    This rice pilaf looks so tasty and healthy, too!

  • Reply
    March 27, 2017 at 7:25 am

    What a gorgeous rice dish! I’ve long been a fan of Nielsen-Massey vanilla, but I’ve never had their almond extract. I love the idea of using it in a savory application like this!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 7:51 am

      I love extracts of all kinds, I collect them ~ but I have a special place in my heart for almond, it’s so potent. I think you’ll love Nielsen-Massey’s, Mary πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Bintu - Recipes From A Pantry
    March 27, 2017 at 7:00 am

    Ah wow, that looks so amazing. Rice can be boring but not this recipe

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 7:11 am

      I think that’s one of the reasons pilaf is such a classic dish, because the rice absorbs so much flavor. Thanks Bintu πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche
    March 27, 2017 at 6:47 am

    I would never have thought to add almond extract to a dish like this, sounds amazing! Also love your tip about getting two-toned rice, really clever πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Thanks Becca ~ I’ve been wondering about that rice forever ~ glad I finally researched it! I read that most Indian restaurants use food coloring! #somuchbetterhomemade πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    [email protected]'s Recipes
    March 27, 2017 at 5:49 am

    I would have never thought of flavouring rice with almond extract, but I totally trust your taste, Sue. The pilaf looks utterly delicious.

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 6:17 am

      I’ve been using vanilla in savory dishes for a while now, but using almond was new for me…I’m hooked!

  • Reply
    Tricia @ Saving Room for Dessert
    March 27, 2017 at 3:56 am

    I am not able to open a bottle of their almond extract without taking a big, giant whiff! I adore their products and buy nothing else if I can help it! This is the prettiest pilaf I’ve ever seen and I really can’t wait to make it. How delicious!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2017 at 6:17 am

      Truth be told, everything gets stalled in the kitchen while I stand in a corner with my bottle πŸ˜‰ Thanks Tricia!

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