Kenya’s signature dish that is served in all occasions and gatherings… drum rolls please… Pilau! Pilau is an amazing one pot rice dish that is a favourite for Kenyans and East Africans in occasions like weddings, rurashio’s (traditional weddings when bride price is paid), family gatherings and even burials. It is also a heart-warming dish to serve the family with love.

What is there not to love in this pilau dish? Its flavorful and has an amazing fragrance. Pilau is a hit in my house, especially with my niece Tamara and my first son, Alex, as for Andrew my second son, he eats just about anything he is served! I cook pilau after every two weeks on Saturdays therefore I would say I have tested and tasted the best recipe for the yummiest Kenya Pilau. You will most defiantly toss pilau Njeri aside after seeing how actually it is easy to make the real thing.

What is in Pilau.

Pilau is a one pot dish that consists of a meat, rice, potatoes, tomatoes or tomato paste and some pilau masala. Besides beef, pilau can be cooked using chicken, goat and vegetables. I have heard other people use fish… I think one of these days I might have to try fish pilau! But am a bit sceptical about this! Have you ever cooked fish pilau? If you have, encourage me to try.

How to serve Pilau.

The East African way of serving pilau is to accompany it with the famous Kachumbari. Kachumbari is a salad made of sliced onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves, and pepper. When making my kachumbari, I add grated cucumbers and sometimes chopped lettuce. Toss all these together and add a pinch of salt and some lemon juice or vinegar and let it chill in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes. I leave the pepper out, and serve it on the side for baba.

Some people like accompanying their pilau with some broth and a banana. I have tried this but for my taste, I would rather leave out the broth, I feel like it dilutes the sweetness in the pilau.

What makes pilau brown?

Pilau gets its brown colour from the caramelization of the onions. This is why my secret is to use more onions for more colour. The onions should be caramelised but not burnt, because once you cross the line between caramelization and burning the pilau dish will end up bitter and nobody will enjoy bitter pilau.

I also add some dark superior soy sauce to my pilau. Traditionally, soy sauce is not an ingredient in pilau but I find it seasons the pilau, adds some flavour and most importantly helps brown my pilau. Soy sauce is also very good at marinating the beef used in the pilau, which is another way I use to add flavour to my dish.

The pilau masala itself also aids at browning the pilau. Some people add brown colour to the masala but I find this step unnecessary.

Lets talk Flavour!

The star of my pilau is homemade pilau masala. I promise you once you make the switch from store bought pilau masala to home-made pilau masala automatically the flavors in your pilau will be elevated to another heavenly level! This is the secret that the best pilau makers have discovered and stuck by.

Home made pilau masala takes only a few minutes to make and really its not that of a big hustle, and the difference is totally worth it. All you need to make homemade pilau masala is whole spices that are readily available in local supermarkets and dukas. The whole spices you will need are; cardamoms seeds, cloves, black pepper corns, a bay leaf, coriander leaves, cumin seeds. Roast these in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes to awaken the flavors, cool and grind into a fine powder. To these you can add some heat with cayenne pepper or chilli flakes or powder to your desire.

Tomato paste is another star ingredient that adds some moisture and tomatoes flavour to the pilau.

Marinated beef in this recipe also helps elevate the flavours in the pilau. I always meal plan on Saturdays and buy my meats for the week the same day. If I happen to have pilau scheduled, I marinate pilau beef portion then and store it in the freezer. I use a table spoon of garlic-ginger paste, some dash of soy sauce, juice from a lemon, a table spoon of pilau masala and some vegetable oil. When it’s the day to cook pilau, the beef comes out of the freezer and left to thaw the whole day, and as it thaws the beef is marinating till cooking time. And the flavour from the beef is a plus to the pilau.

Lets talk rice.

Have you ever been disappointed by rice while making rice dishes, well I have! I have experimented with most brands in the market and some ended up being some ricy ugali! But I have come to settle on the best, Dawaat basmati rice and a close runners up to me is sunrise basmati. With these two, my rice dish is always perfect and they both have amazing flavours.

Another reason why rice might gum together, is not washing the rice well. Rice should be thoroughly washed to rinse out the white starch which causes the rice to gum up.

Proportions of water.

To avoid soggy pilau the right proportion of water should always be used. If you use too much water than required, the rice will defiantly sog up and when you use too little water the rice might not cook through. For me for every cup of rice, I use 1 and ½ cup of water or stock. And this gives me the best fluffy rice.

Freezing pilau.

Pilau freezes very well, the left overs should be put in airtight containers and put in the fridge or freezer. Reheating is also pretty easy. I hope you enjoy cooking this pilau recipe and if and when you do let me know how it turned out in the comment section.

Kenyan beef pilau

Beloved pilau rice! this recipe will result to the most flavoursome mouth watering Pilaf rice. It is a simple recipe that can be adopted for every-day home cooking. Your family will love it!
Cook Time 50 mins
Course Main Course


  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 4 onions sliced
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 3/4 kg beef meat cut into cubes
  • few potatoes peeled and washed
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce dark superior
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 royco cubes beef or chicken
  • 2 tbsp pilau masala homemade is best
  • 5 cups washed rice basmati dawaat
  • 7.5 cups water or stock beef, chicken or vegetable stock


  • Heat the oil in a cooking pot, add the onions and cook till they start browning.
  • Add the garlic ginger paste and continue starring until the onions caramelise. Be careful not to burn the onions and the garlic.
  • When the onion caramelise, add the meat. Add some water to help the meat cook, cover and cook for about 10-20 minutes depending on the cut of the beef.
  • When the beef is cooked, add the potatoes and cook them for a minute or two.
  • Add the cubes, tomato paste, pilau masala and dark soy sauce. Cook this for 2 minutes to let the spices cook.
  • Add the rice and stir, then add water or the broth. Stir, and add salt to taste.
  • Uncovered, wait for all the liquid to be absorbed by the rice but not dried off, stir the rice and cover with an aluminium foil paper to keep the steam in.
  • Dry the rice off in the oven at 180 degrees for 10-20 minutes or on the stove with very low flame.
  • Serve with Kachumbari and enjoy.


Keyword East Africa pilau, kenyan pilau, pilaf, pilau kenya, pilau rice, recipes for pilau


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