Zanzibar Pilau Rice Pilaf from In Bibis Kitchen
Zanzibar Pilau Rice Pilaf from In Bibis Kitchen

This East African pilau is made with sautéed onions, warm spices, and coconut milk for added richness. Serve as a base for meat stews, vegetables or beans.

The flavors of Zanzibar Pilau, a rice dish, are emblematic of many Zanzibar recipes as they reflect the influences of the spice trade along the Indian Ocean.

For this recipe, basmati rice is infused with aromatic spices like cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, roasted in butter and then cooked in coconut milk to provide a comforting and flavorful base that pairs well with vegetables, beans, meat or meat stews.

Tips for making Zanzibar Pilau

This recipe requires the rice to be rinsed and then soaked in cold water for at least 10 minutes but up to 30 minutes. It may seem like a step you want to skip, but I dare you to take the time to do so as it will result in foolproof fluffy rice with separated grains.

I use butter or ghee to sauté the onion and allow the spices to bloom, but if you’re vegan feel free to substitute coconut oil or olive oil for the butter.

If you cook with whole spices like I do in this recipe, make sure to find and remove the cardamom pods and cinnamon before serving.

The archipelago of Zanzibar is rich in coconut palms and coconut in all forms is a star ingredient there. Don’t be tempted to use low-fat or low-fat coconut milk in this recipe. Full-fat coconut milk, even in the small amount used here, adds richness and serves as a creamy base for the variety of warm spices used in this dish.

A little bit about Zanzibar

Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous network of islands off the coast of Tanzania, is home to nearly 1 million people. It is technically part of mainland Tanzania but has its own government and culture. It was considered a hub for the spice trade and the food reflects that history. Clove, black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon are grown here.

About “In BiBi’s kitchen”

“In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from Eight African Countries Touching the Indian Ocean” by Somali chef Hawa Hassan and food writer Julia Turshen invites readers into the homes of women to meet them meet, cook with them and learn more about their countries and cultures.

It’s part cookbook and part travel guide. Learning about each country and some of the women behind the recipes provides context that makes the meal even more enjoyable. When you want more than just a recipe.

More rice pilaf recipes

  • rice pilaf
  • Dirty Rice
  • Rice pilaf with mushrooms and pine nuts
  • Okra Pilaf

Zanzibar Pilau (rice pilaf) from “In Bibi’s Kitchen”

preparation time
5 minutes

cooking time
30 minutes

inactive time
30 minutes

total time
65 minutes

4 servings

Recipe reprinted courtesy of In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan featuring Julia Turshen, Copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed ​​Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.


  • 1 Cup long grain white rice (preferably basmati)

  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter or ghee

  • 1 small yellow onionfinely diced

  • 5 green cardamom Pods

  • 1 (2 inch) piece Cinammon floor

  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground carnations

  • 1/2 Cup Full fat unsweetened coconut milk

  • 1 Cup Boil water

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt


  1. Rinse the rice, cover with water and soak:

    Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold tap water, gently stirring the rice with your hands until the water runs clear, about 1 minute.

    Place the rinsed rice in a bowl, cover with cold water and allow to soak for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.

  2. Cook onion:

    Meanwhile, put the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the rest of the ingredients:

    Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and ground cloves and cook, stirring, until the mixture smells very aromatic, about 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk, boiling water, and salt.

  4. Add the rice and cook on low:

    Drain the rice and add to the pot. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until rice absorbs liquid and is tender, about 15 minutes.

  5. Let the rice sit for 10 minutes, then serve immediately:

    Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for at least 10 minutes before fluffing with a spoon or fork. Remove and discard the cinnamon and cardamom (if you can find them, they tend to hide – if you can’t find them, just warn your guests). Serve the rice hot immediately.

  6. How to store:

    Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheated in a 300°F oven or in a skillet over low heat.

nutritional information (per serving)
250 calories
7g Fat
42g carbohydrates
4g protein
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Hello everybody, Even if you're limited on time and money, I believe you can prepare wonderful food with everyday products. All you have to do is cook cleverly and creatively!