Vegan Pilaf with Sweet Potato

This vegan pilaf is fragrant and packed with goodness from brown rice, sweet potato, chickpeas and walnuts. It has a light and fluffy texture which is deliciously moreish. It’s super easy to make, and is perfect for meal prep.

two bowls of vegan pilaf, with lemon wedges and a beer

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What is vegan pilaf?

Essentially, pilaf is rice cooked in a seasoned broth. The rice is often toasted in butter or oil first, to bring out its nutty flavour. This also creates a dish with separate, fluffy grains. After stock is added to the pan, it’s cooked over a low heat until the grains are soft and the liquid is absorbed. 

Vegetables and protein are often added to make it a wholesome side dish, or a meal in its own right. It can be as simple or as complicated as you like, with different spices and ingredients.

Is pilaf vegan?

Pilaf is a vegan dish, as long as you use oil (instead of butter), and plant-based proteins.

Oven baked vegan rice pilaf 

Rice is a mega staple in our house, so vegan pilaf is always a weeknight winner. My version is a delicious pot of rice and sweet potato, dotted with crunchy walnuts and jewelled with dried cranberries which plump up in the cooking broth. Along with orange zest,  these lend a wintery flavour profile to the dish.

This baked brown rice pilaf with vegetables and nuts is so simple to make. Simply mix together the chopped veggies, dried fruit, nuts and rice in an oven proof dish, pour the stock over the top, cover and bake in the oven until everything is cooked. 

Overhead photo of two bowls of pilaf, with coriander and lemon

Why I love this sweet potato pilaf

  • The combination of rice and veggies is super healthy and so simple.
  • It adds a beautiful pop of warm colour to a winter table.
  • Like my other staple meal prep lunches and weeknight dinners, vegan pilaf couldn’t be easier to make. You only need one pot!
  • You can use up any odd bits of vegetables you have in the fridge, making it a great way to reduce food waste.
  • It’s also full of fibre from chickpeas, sweet potato, and rice, so will keep you going all afternoon long.
  • It has a delicious nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture from brown rice.

What ingredients are needed for this recipe?

Onion, garlic and fresh ginger– These are important aromatics which form the base of this vegetable rice pilaf; make sure you don’t leave them out. Red or white onions work perfectly well here, and you can use garlic and ginger paste if you would rather.

Rice– I like to use basmati rice as the grains separate out really well when cooked, resulting in a fluffy vegan pilaf. I would recommend using wholegrain/brown rice, as it contains more protein and fibre than white rice.

Sweet potato– Sweet potato cooks perfectly in the oven, and lends a lovely sweet and earthy flavour to the rice dish. They’re also a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Walnuts and dried cranberries– The walnuts provide a savoury bite and a boost of protein and healthy omega-3. The cranberries bring lovely pops of chewy sweetness to the dish, with a beautiful deep red colour.

Chickpeas– A protein rich legume, these are super cheap and can be bought pre-cooked in cans, or (for an even cheaper option) dried. If you buy the dried variety, you’ll need to pre cook them before putting them in the vegan pilaf.

Ingredients for vegan pilaf

Ground cumin, coriander and cinnamon– This flavourful blend of spices makes for a delightfully warm and spiced dish.

Orange zest– The sweetness of the orange zest contrasts beautifully with the spices in this sweet potato pilaf, and adds to the wintery, warm flavour. If you don’t like the combination of savoury and sweet, you can leave this out.

Stock– The stock is super important so make sure you use a proper stock or vegetable broth instead of just water. You can get some high quality vegetable stocks at the store, or make your own. 

Lemon juice– Added right at the end, and makes all of the flavours pop! Citrus adds the sour element which compliments the sweetness of orange and cranberry.

Equipment needed

I would recommend some good stove-to-ovenware for cooking this vegan rice pilaf recipe, such as a cast iron dish. You want it to be approximately 12 inches squared.  If you don’t have this kind of cookware, a normal oven dish will work, and I’ll outline how to adapt the recipe below. A lid is important for this recipe, as the rice needs plenty of steam to cook. If your dish doesn’t have a lid, you could cover it with a couple of layers of tin foil.

How to make vegan pilaf with sweet potato

This vegan pilaf is honestly so easy to make, with only minimal hands on time. Begin by preheating the oven to 200 celcius/390 fahrenheit, so the sweet potato pilaf can cook away in the oven once the ingredients are prepared.

We start by frying off the onion, garlic and ginger in the pan, for 5 minutes over a medium heat. They should be softened and golden in colour. Next, add the rice and walnuts, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until they are lightly fragrant.

If you don’t have stove-to-ovenware, start by combining the onion, garlic and ginger with the oil in your oven-safe dish, and add to the oven to roast for 10-15 minutes, until softened. After this, add the rice and walnuts, then stir to coat in the oil. Proceed as below.

Add the remaining ingredients to the dish (cumin, coriander, cinnamon, sweet potato, chickpeas, dried cranberries and orange zest). Add the stock last and ensure that all of the rice is covered. Cover the dish with an oven-safe lid or two layers of tin foil, then place it into the oven for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, remove the lid (or foil) and fluff up the vegan pilaf with a fork, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper as you go. Stir through the juice of half a lemon. For extra fluffy rice, re-cover the dish and leave it out of the oven to steam for 10 minutes.

Serve whilst hot, or allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge, covered.

Serving suggestions

This vegan pilaf recipe was created to be a well rounded meal in itself, filled with fiber, protein and healthy fats. It’s a perfect option for meal prep which gives you energy for a whole afternoon. However, it’s a super versatile dish that can be enjoyed in so many ways! Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Sprinkle over plenty of your favourite chopped herbs. I’ve chosen cilantro, but you could go for dill or parsley.
  • You could serve sweet potato pilaf as part of a rice bowl or buddha bowl, with extra roasted or raw veggies, leafy greens and hummus.
  • For extra protein, add some grilled or stir fried tofu.
  • Serve it at holidays alongside your favourite seasonal dishes.
  • Eat it on the side of a stewed dish like tagine or curry.
  • Take it cold for a potluck or buffet. It’s a real crowd pleaser!
Photograph of a serving dish of vegan pilaf, with a spoonful taken out

My top tips for the perfect vegan rice pilaf

When prepping for this dish, I would recommend leaving the skin on the sweet potato. If you remove it, it could end up turning to mush as it cooks, and you will end up with quite a claggy dish!

The stock is really important for this vegetarian rice pilaf, so you want to make sure this is good and flavourful. Purchase a good quality stock, or better yet make your own. It’s super easy and vegan friendly- there are plenty of recipes available!

This is a great recipe for meal prep, and makes a portion of vegetable pilaf big enough to feed 1 person for 4 days (I wouldn’t recommend keeping a rice dish for any longer than this). If you are feeding 2 people, or want to make more to freeze, this recipe easily doubles. Make sure that you use a larger baking dish so that the layer of rice isn’t too deep.

Ingredient substitutes or additions

As I mentioned above, you need to use long grain or basmati rice for this vegan pilaf. You can use white rice instead of wholegrain, but reduce the amount of water by 50ml/quarter cup and reduce the cooking time by 15 minutes. You could also do a straight swap for wild rice. I wouldn’t recommend using any short grain rice for this recipe.

Rapeseed/canola oil–  You can swap this oil for vegan butter, or olive oil, though I prefer to use canola oil as it’s a little healthier. The oil helps to keep the grains separate, so whilst you could leave the oil out, it would mean that the grains of rice may stick together more.

You can use your favourite dried fruit in this sweet potato pilaf recipe, instead of dried cranberries. Sultanas, chopped dried dates or apricots, and dried cherries all work really well. You can also swap in your favourite nuts. Pecans, almonds and cashews are some of my favourite options for this recipe.

You can add any vegetables you like to this vegan pilaf, as it cooks for plenty of time. Mushrooms, peppers, carrots, squash, zucchini, eggplant and green beans are all healthy and delicious. The sky’s the limit! Chop them up into bite sized pieces for the best results. You could even add frozen vegetables such as peas if you are in a pinch.

Swap chickpeas for favourite beans or even lentils. Canned or dried all work well in this recipe, just make sure you cook any dried legumes before adding them in.

Spices– I’ve used cumin, coriander and cinnamon, but you could use your favourite spices or spice blend for your vegan brown rice pilaf. Ras-el-hanout is a delicious option, as is garam masala. Smoked paprika would add a lovely smoky flavour, and ground cinnamon would add to the spiced profile.

Overhead photo of one bowl of vegan pilaf with lemon

FAQ’s

Can I make this recipe in advance?

Yes! This dish is perfect for meal prep and can be enjoyed hot or cold. Portion up into airtight containers, and keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Can I freeze vegan pilaf?

This dish is also freezer friendly, so you can even double the recipe and freeze enough for next week too. Freeze it in airtight containers for up to 6 weeks. Defrost completely in the fridge (ideally overnight) before reheating as below.

How to reheat sweet potato pilaf

This dish is best reheated in the microwave, to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. Add a tbsp of water and cover, leaving a small vent for steam to escape. Heat on full power for 2-3 minutes (this will depend on your microwave power) until piping hot through.

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Bowl of vegan pilaf with two lemon wedges

Vegan Pilaf with Sweet Potato

Chloe from Forkful of Plants
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Servings 4
This vegan pilaf is fragrant and packed with goodness from brown rice, sweet potato, chickpeas and walnuts. It has a light and fluffy texture which is deliciously moreish. It’s super easy to make, and is perfect for meal prep.

Equipment

  • ~12 inch oven proof dish (stove-to-oven if possible)

Ingredients
 
 

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger minced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 200 g brown rice
  • 50 g cup walnuts
  • 1 (650g) large sweet potato cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 75 g dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ ground coriander
  • ½ ground cinnamon
  • 1 orange zested
  • 400 g can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 350 ml vegetable stock
  • ½ lemon juiced

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 200°c/390°f.
  • Heat the oil in a large, oven proof pan over a medium heat. Fry off the onion, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes until softened and golden in colour.
  • Add the rice and walnuts, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until they are lightly fragrant.
  • If you don’t have stove-to-oven ware, start by combining the onion, garlic and ginger with the oil in your oven-safe dish, and add to the oven to roast for 10-15 minutes, until softened. After this, add the rice and walnuts, then stir to coat in the oil. Proceed as below.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the dish, ensuring that all of the rice is covered by the stock. Cover the dish with an oven-safe lid or two layers of tin foil, then place it into the oven for 40 minutes.
  • After 40 minutes, remove the lid (or foil) and fluff up the pilaf with a fork, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper as you go. Stir through the lemon juice. For extra fluffy rice, re-cover the dish and leave it out of the oven to steam for 10 minutes.

Notes

STORAGE: This dish is perfect for meal prep and can be enjoyed hot or cold. Portion up into airtight containers, and keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for 6 weeks. Defrost completely in the fridge (ideally overnight) before reheating.
This dish is best reheated in the microwave, to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. Add a tbsp of water and cover, leaving a small vent for steam to escape. Heat on full power for 2-3 minutes (this will depend on your microwave power) until piping hot through.

Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 592kcalCarbohydrates: 108gProtein: 14gFat: 14g
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