Spicy Zanzibar Pilau Rice

Spicy Zanzibar Pilau Rice

This recipe is close to the authentically spicy Pilau Rice which is similar to a biryani, an Indian-inspired dish from Zanzibar. There are many similar dishes throughout Africa, but this one is different in that it is heavy on the cloves. After all, the island of Pemba is where all the cloves are grown!
If you wanted to make it a main dish, you could sauté chicken cubes or ground beef along with the onion, then add in the rice after it’s browned. Then proceed with recipe.

Spicy Zanzibar Pilau Rice

4 from 3 votes
Course Main Dish, North African Food, World Recipes
Cuisine Zanzibar


Pilau Masala, spice mix

  • 1 tsp Whole Cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Fresh ground peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp Ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp Ground cinnamon

Pilau Rice

  • All of above Pilau masala
  • 2 cups Chicken broth Use Vegetable broth for Vegetarian recipe
  • 1 cup Canned Coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Sliced Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Onion
  • 1 clove Crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp Minced fresh ginger
  • Cubed chicken, ground beef, or chick peas Optional



  • Mix all spice ingredients together and set aside.

Make the Pilau

  • In a bowl, mix the coconut milk with 1⁄2 cup of the broth.
  • Heat oil on medium heat in a large pot or skillet with lid, Add onions and bell pepper. Add your protein at this point if using. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. 2-3 minutes. Add in rice. Cook and stir until the translucent color of rice starts to turn opaque white.
  • Add garlic, ginger, and pilau masala. Cook and stir to "wake up" the spices (1 minute) and until garlic begins to soften and becomes fragrant. Be careful not to burn it!
  • Add the coconut mixture to the rice. Cook and stir until most of this liquid is absorbed as you would risotto. When pan is almost dry, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the broth.
  • Cover the pot and turn heat down to low. Check the rice intermittently and add more broth or water if it seems dry. Cook 15-20 minutes or until rice is soft and liquid is absorbed.


You can use all ground spices if you don't have any whole spices. Substitute  1/2 tsp ground cumin for whole cumin, and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper for peppercorns.
Keyword Rice, Spices, vegetarian

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