Festive Pilav (Turkish Stuffing Rice)

But what is festive rice? I hear you ask! Let me explain...

When I'm working with versions of traditional recipes, I find renaming certain dishes like this can be more fun and maybe easier for the reader to remember than adding a completely new word to their Turkish vocabulary. Of course, the purpose of this is not in ay way to diminish the tradition or heritage of the dish, but rather further expand its accessibility (and audience) by giving it a descriptive and thus more memorable name - not much different than the original, which is funny in its own right.

The original name of this dish is " İç (the inside, stuffing) Pilav (rice)" because it is mainly used as a filling/stuffing for all kinds of dolma (stuffed fresh or dried vegetables, vine or cabbage leaves, which also literally translates to stuffed) but also as a stuffing for chicken or turkey.

I consider this recipe a very special one simply because of its versatility and unique flavour blend. It is one of those dishes where when mastered once, it will serve you for a lifetime. Nutty, sweet, spicy and savoury all at once, every bite is accompanied by different textures coming from nuts, dried currants and chickpeas.

Turkish stuffing rice with chickpeas, dried blackcurrants, spices and pine nuts
Turkish Stuffing Rice (Festive Pilav)

Most of the dolmas, like stuffed vine leaves, squash blossoms, peppers or zucchini, get their incredible flavour from this very special rice filing. Even though the ingredients used to aromatise the rice will change slightly depending on the region and availability, the three main ingredients, pine nuts, blackcurrants and allspice seem to stay the same in pretty much every iteration of this dish. You can experiment with adding dried mint, fresh mint, fresh parsley or use sultanas instead of currants and almonds instead of pine nuts, which are among the most commonly used aromatics for this dish.

Another reason why I love this rice is because it takes me back to my childhood's Christmas time, the New Year's Eve celebrations, and right in between, my birthday. Hence the name I chose for it: festive rice. Turkey, with its largely muslim population, does not officially celebrate Christmas, yet certain Christmas traditions have infiltrated the culture, taking Christ (and the related mythos) out of Christmas, every other tradition related to gift-giving, Santa Claus, tree decorating and food, have been adopted and appropriated as New Years celebration activities. Be it New Year's Eve, Christmas, birthdays or other special occasions, this rice always made an appearance at the table, this time stuffed inside a whole turkey and made with whole roasted chestnuts instead of chickpeas.

This recipe uses chickpeas simply because I wanted to come up with a version that would still have the nutty taste and the texture of chestnuts, but is available to everyone and all seasons. If you can get your hands on some beautiful chestnuts, I recommend you try this recipe with chestnuts, or both chickpeas and chestnuts.

So go ahead and use this rice to make stuffed veggies like squashes, bell peppers, zucchini, vine leaves, cabbage leaves, squash blossoms, or as a stuffing for a Thanksgiving turkey. This dish also makes a wonderfully filling main dish or a great side dish for various of meat and fish (especially delicious when paired with sea bass) and vegetables. Since I don't eat meat and rarely eat fish, my favourite way of serving this dish is with a thick mushroom gravy and steamed or oven roasted green beans.

We've talked about all the different ways you can use this flavourful rice. Down below, you'll find some important tips and tricks that will help you realise this recipe with ease and help answer some potential questions you may have.

Tips and Tricks:

  • If you're using fresh chestnuts, consider roasting them in the oven and shelling them beforehand (don't forget to score them prior to tossing them in the oven!).

  • Soaking and washing the rice here is very important because unlike a creamier risotto or a paella, we are aiming to obtain the kind of rice that falls off your fork.

  • The water or chicken stock you'll use for the rice should be very hot, or boiling. If you're using chicken stock, I recommend bringing it to a boil in another pot next to your pilav so it can be ready to go when you need to use it.

  • For a vegan version, simply use 4 tablespoons of olive oil or any oil of your choice instead of butter.

  • If you can't find Baldo rice which is a hybrid between Arborio and Stirpe 136, you can go with Arborio or any type of risotto rice available to you.

  • If you're not using low sodium chicken stock, I recommend adding the salt later.

  • Do not remove the lid or stir the rice while it's simmering. This will cause the steam to escape and you might end up with mushier rice.

  • While resting the rice, place a clean kitchen towel or a cloth over the rice and cover the lid over the cloth. The cloth will absorb the moisture, inside the pot, preventing the rice from overcooking during the resting process.

Bon Appétit!








480 grams or 2 cups of Baldo rice

2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil (or, 4 tbsp of olive oil for the vegan version)

1 large yellow onion

3 tbsp dried blackcurrants

3 tbsp pine nuts

250 grams or 1½ cups of cooked chestnuts or chickpeas (equal to 1 can of chickpeas, drained)

870 ml or 3½ cups of water or chicken stock

2 tsp of salt

1 tsp of brown sugar

1 tsp of allspice

1 tsp of dried mint

½ tsp of cinnamon

1 tsp of black pepper

5-6 branches of fresh dill, chopped


1. Soak the rice in a bowl using warm water and a teaspoon of salt for half an hour.

2. While your rice is soaking, prepare your other ingredients. Dice your onion, wash and chop your dill, and in a small bowl or glass, soak your dried blackcurrants in warm water.

3. Take your soaked rice and wash it repeatedly until the water runs clear. Drain the rice and set aside.

4. In a wide and preferably shallow pot, heat the oil and add the diced onions. Sauté them in medium high heat until they become translucent for about 5 minutes.

5. Add the pine nuts and keep sautéing until they turn slightly golden in colour for about 5 minutes.

6. Add the drained rice and sauté, stirring constantly, until the grains become translucent. This can take anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes depending on the type of rice you use.

7. Add the drained and washed chickpeas (or chestnuts) along with the drained blackcurrants and stir everything together.

8. Pour the boiling water on the rice, add all your spices and mix everything together one last time before putting on the lid.

9. Put the lid on, turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer, covered for about 10-13 minutes.

10. Remove the pot from the heat, add the chopped dill, give it a stir and place a clean kitchen towel over the rice, put the lid back on and let it rest for 15 minutes.

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