Wild Rice Pilaf is a delicious and cozy Autumn meal. You can make this as a side dish for the holiday main course or serve it alongside a simple weeknight dinner. The recipe features pecans, dried cranberries, and is gluten-free, packed with protein, and fiber!
Wild rice pilaf - holiday side dish
This recipe is a perfect combination of savory and sweet flavors. Dried cranberries add a bit of sweetness, while pecans add crunch and nutty flavor to the wild rice. Spicy Italian sausage is used to add even more flavor to this easy-to-make side dish. Not only is this Autumn-inspired recipe delicious, but it also makes an appealing presentation and will look great on your Thanksgiving or Christmas table. Other great holidays side dishes that will be great to serve with wild rice pilaf are roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash with pecans and cranberries or roasted acorn squash stuffed with apples.
Easy family-friendly weeknight meal
The best thing about wild rice pilaf is that it's so easy to make. The only time-consuming portion of the recipe is cooking the wild rice. As you know, wild rice cooks a long time, about 45 minutes, so plan accordingly. After the wild rice is cooked, the recipe is done very quickly. Which makes this meal a great recipe to make for family on a busy weeknight. It's also a great recipe to make for when you have company over. Because Italian sausage is one of the ingredients, you can easily serve this wild rice pilaf as a meal in itself. The recipe is packed with fiber, protein, and is gluten-free. Another great and easy recipe similar to this one is creamy chicken and wild rice skillet.
What kind of wild rice to use?
It's best to use a wild rice blend that includes not only wild rice but other varieties. This way, the final dish has a more well-rounded texture and the wild rice blend is easier (and faster) to cook. I used a wild rice blend by the Lundberg brand. The blend includes black, brown, red, and wild rice.
How to cook wild rice
- Combine 1 cup of wild rice, 4 cups of water (1 to 4 proportion), and salt in a saucepan. If using a wild rice blend, combine 1 cup of wild rice and 3 cups of water (1 to 3 proportion).
- Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat low and simmer (cook) the rice for about 45 minutes, covered.
- After 45 minutes of cooking, stir the rice. If there is still water in the pan, cover, and let the rice sit, covered, for 10 more minutes to absorb the remaining water.
- Season the rice with extra salt, if desired.
How do you know when wild rice is cooked?
- Cook until the rice is soft but not mushy and until most of the grains are popped. You don't want the rice to be tough and chewy, so be patient and cook just until it's of the right softness.
- Once the rice is cooked to the desired softness, drain extra water from the pan.
How to make wild rice pilaf
- Cook the wild rice. First, cook the wild rice (or wild rice blend) according to the package instructions. That usually means cooking it for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Prepare other ingredients. While the wild rice is cooking, start working on the rest of the ingredients. Cook Italian sausage with Italian seasoning until the sausage is cooked through. Add diced or shredded carrots and ½ cup of chicken broth and simmer for about 10 minutes until the carrots are soft.
- Add dried fruit. Add dried cranberries and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add cooked wild rice and nuts. When the wild rice is cooked, add cooked wild rice (drained of any water) to the skillet with the sausage mixture and toss to combine. Stir in chopped pecans, fresh thyme, and season with salt and pepper.
- Rinse the uncooked wild rice for about 1 minute under cold water.
- Use sausage. This recipe uses a small amount of sausage (8 oz) - yet this small amount adds all the flavor! I used crumbled spicy Italian sausage - it works the best.
- Carrots. You can dice the carrots or, even better, grate the carrots, using a cheese grater, for a more refined texture.
- Seasonings. Wild rice can be quite bland, so it's very important to season this dish with just the right amount of salt. I also suggest adding red pepper flakes to add even more flavor.
Can you make this ahead?
Wild rice pilaf can be made up to 4 days ahead. It can be reheated in a microwave oven, or in the skillet on the stovetop. If the rice gets dry, just add small amounts of chicken broth or water until the rice gets moist to your liking.
Storage and reheating tips
- Fridge. Refrigerate wild rice in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Freezer. You can freeze this dish in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- How to reheat. Reheat wild rice pilaf in the microwave oven or in the skillet on the stovetop. When reheating, you might have to add a small amount of chicken broth or water if the rice gets too dry.
What I love about wild rice pilaf is that it is a very flexible and versatile recipe. Many ingredients can be changed without the loss of flavor.
- Nuts. Pecans, walnuts, or pine nuts - all will work great in this recipe!
- Dried fruit. Dried cranberries add a holiday vibe to the wild rice pilaf. However, you can also use dried figs or dried cherries, or even dried blueberries.
- Veggies. This recipe uses carrots but you can also add sweet green peas (the frozen kind), diced bell peppers, or mushrooms. All will blend beautifully with wild rice!
What to serve with wild rice pilaf
This side dish will pair well with any Thanksgiving or Christmas main course. I recommend that you try one of these recipes for your holiday dinner, especially the roasted duck:
- Roast Duck is a perfect holiday main course! This Roast Whole Duck has tender and juicy meat, crispy skin, and it’s glazed with the honey-balsamic glaze to give the duck a beautiful roasted look.
- Roasted Cornish Hens with Winter Vegetables are made with Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes.
- Duck Breast with Cranberry Sauce - this recipe will make a perfect main dish for any special night, an anniversary celebration, or holiday, especially Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Other wild rice recipes you might like
- Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup with Mushrooms
- Creamy Chicken Pot Pie Wild Rice Skillet with Green Peas
- Chicken and Wild Rice in a creamy Parmesan sauce
Wild Rice Pilaf
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup wild rice I used wild rice blend, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 oz Italian sausage spicy, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 carrot diced or shredded
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup pecans chopped
- fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- 4 green onions chopped
- Rinse wild rice really well. Add 1 cup of wild rice and 3 cups of water to a large saucepan. Bring to boil and cook according to the package instructions, which usually means 45 minutes.
- While the rice cooks, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add crumbled Italian sausage, Italian seasoning, and cook for about 5 or 10 minutes until the sausage is cooked through.
- Add diced (or, even better, shredded) carrots to the skillet with sausage, ½ cup chicken broth (maximum ¾ cup - depending on the size of your skillet), bring to a low simmer, and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes until the carrots are soft.
- There shouldn't be much extra liquid left after simmering for 10 minutes, but if there is a small amount - that's OK, it will be absorbed when you add cooked wild rice (which is usually dry).
- Add dried cranberries and cook for 2 more minutes. Cranberries will absorb some of the liquid which will plump them up.
- When the wild rice is cooked, add cooked wild rice (drained of any water) to the skillet with the sausage mixture and toss to combine.
- Stir in chopped pecans, fresh thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Top with chopped green onions.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
I made this for Christmas Eve, and everyone in the extended family loved it. The only changes I made were to 1) mix in the green onions and 2) put the toasted pecans on top shortly before serving. Leftovers were devoured the next day. Thanks for the great recipe!
Buttercup, I am so glad this recipe was a success during the holidays! Thank you for taking the time to share such a positive comment and 5-star review! 🙂
Yummm, I'm going to serve as main course too, with a little cheese added for stuffing an Acorn Squash.
Dian, this would be a great stuffing for acorn squash! Excellent idea!
I wouldn't make this as a holiday side, but it's a delicious main course for me. I don't eat a lot of meat, so this recipe was perfect for me - just a bit of sausage with lots of rice and other goodies!
Thanks for giving this recipe a try - I would eat this as a main course too!