Brown Rice Pilaf with Green Olives and Lemon


Montreal was an amazing place to eat, but after a trip in which I ate poutine, croissants, fried pork, steak and more bacon than I care to admit, I was in need of some serious dietary improvements. I came home craving fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is pretty much the state I am in at the end of all travels. Too much enjoyment of the local cuisine and I feel a strong desire to balance things out. The first thing I made for us was this very simple brown rice pilaf with green olives, lemon and a sprinkle of goat cheese.


I found this recipe in the current issue of Food & Wine which I picked up in the airport on my way to Canada. Sitting on the airplane 36,000 feet from dinner, the pilaf seemed like heaven. I discovered the recipe again on my return flight and was excited to get back to my kitchen and give it a try. It was the perfect post-vacation dinner served with a generous amount of salad. The cooking technique turns the rice into an almost creamy risotto-like dish which is accented by the salty olives and tangy goat cheese. It is totally satisfying and a great recipe to keep on hand for the next time you return home from good travels.


Brown Rice Pilaf with Green Olives and Lemon (adapted from Food & Wine, August 2009)

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 cups short-grain brown rice
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted small green olives, sliced (6 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces aged goat cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler

In a large saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Add the water, rice, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

Stir 1 tablespoon of salt into the rice. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the bay leaf and thyme. Stir in the olives, chopped basil, lemon juice and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the rice into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the goat cheese and basil leaves; serve.

***This makes a lot of rice. Like 12 servings. You may want to cut the recipe in half. Also, feel free to experiment with this, I think other things could make their way into the rice.


17 comments to “Brown Rice Pilaf with Green Olives and Lemon”

  1. This looks interesting, I would try it but my husband and 16yr old son don’t like green olives. I think they make the dish what it is. Do you think you could post a recipe for the poutine?

  2. I am so with you. Whenever I return from vacation, all I want is whole grains, a bit of tofu, and lots of steamed broccoli. This looks terrific any time.

  3. This recipe caught my attention too. Your photos are lovely and it looks delicious!

  4. Love your shot of the basil bud! This definitely looks like good summer eating. And you don’t even have to turn on the oven.

  5. Dawn in CA says:

    July 31st, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Oh. Man. This is the most delicious-sounding recipe I’ve seen all week (and I read a LOT of recipes). Between my kitchen and my garden, I have everything but the bay leaf. This looks like the perfect Sunday dinner.

  6. I ADORE YOUR BLOG… i want to eat everything you post… i love your dialogue of how you grew up and where your mother shops and ……love it all… thank you for this wonderful blog.
    sincerely, pam

  7. Thanks, Pam! I am glad you are enjoying it!

  8. I am adding this to the menus for the week. Thanks for the recipe!

  9. Love the photo with thyme, lemon, onion and olives. This looks like one hearty meal!

  10. I made this with gnocchi (purchased, not homemade), instead of rice. Delicious!
    Love your blog – thanks for sharing your food adventures with us!

  11. so yum! it looks like a healthier version of risotto. hate olives, but the premise is so lovely!

  12. I made this for dinner last night. It was delicious and it felt very wholesome and virtuous! I couldn’t find short grain brown rice so I used medium grain – it was fine. I also halved it and used pecorino instead of goats cheese. I’m going to make this again for sure!

  13. Leila and I tried this today and it was exceptional. It’s an unintuitive, unique mix of flavor, which makes it a recipe for awesome. The only thing even resembling a downside was that our thyme wasn’t flowering like in your pictures.

  14. Hey William! So glad you guys liked this. If only all of our thyme could be flowering… : )

  15. catherine kennedy says:

    December 31st, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Yum! I made this for my new years eve dinner and it was even more delicious than I expected. Thanks for the recipe.

  16. this is such a great healthy-pseudo-risotto recipe! ive made it before with shitake mushrooms and olives (yum) and today i made it with some sauteed shrimp i added right at the end. a splash of cream adds additional richness but not loads of guilt. love it!

  17. This is phenomenal! I substituted quinoa for brown rice, and gran padano for goat cheese. Added spinach and shittake mushrooms. Delicious, you’re right almost risotto texture but much healthier! This will definitely be a winter standby. Thanks so much!!

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