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Spiced Mushroom Pilaf and Pesto

Impress your partner (and yourself) with this one-pot spiced mushroom pilaf, topped with a vibrant green pesto, a squeeze of lemon and crispy onions. A hands off, impressive centerpiece that’s ready in just 40 minutes. 

Spiqced Mushroom Pilaf an easy pistachio kale pesto with crispy onions in a blue dish

Served with crunchy onions, creamy yoghurt, and zesty lemon, this spicy mushroom pilaf with pesto will take your tastebuds on a tantalising journey. The combination of cool yoghurt and warm rice is what makes this quick and easy dish a winner. Ready in 40 minutes and only 9 steps, it’s the perfect hands-off recipe to serve up on Valentine’s day or pop on your dinner table this week. You can even make it ahead of time all the frills, none of the fuss.

What is pilaf?

Pilaf (or pilau) is a rice dish that is cooked in a broth with spices and vegetables or meat. By cooking the rice in a hot broth you can turn this simple grain into a delicious meal. Cooking the rice in a rich broth, flecked with caramelized onions, garlic roasted mushrooms, and laced with warming spices turns this humble ingredient into something truly special. 

The unsung hero: Rice

The secret to a flavourful, aromatic pilaf is making sure that the rice is cooked to perfection. You are looking to achieve a fluffy, hearty rice dish here. Make sure you get it right with these top tips:

  1. Rinse your rice – By washing rice the before cooking it you are removing excess starch. This separates the grains so that your rice won’t stick together, avoiding a stodgy mess. You can do this by popping the rice in a strainer (with small holes) and running water over it until the water runs clear. 
  2. Not all rice is the same – If you are opting for a brown rice, then remember this will require more cooking time. If you are using an aromatic rice, then soak/rinse it a bit longer to get the aromas to the surface. Make sure you adjust the recipe according to the rice you are cooking for the best results.
  3. Let your rice rest before serving – To get an even cook and fluffy rice, give your rice the cold shoulder once it’s done cooking. Ignore your rice, and leave the lid on for another 5 to 10 minutes after cooking – resist the urge to stir it. By doing this simple trick you will allow the rice to absorb any remaining liquids so all water is gone before serving.
Spiced Mushroom Pilaf an easy pistachio kale pesto with crispy onions in a blue dish

Get creative

The great thing about this recipe is that it is adaptable. You can turn it into a vegan/vegetarian dish by substituting the dairy elements for a vegan alternative.

You also have the option of creating your own pesto and crispy onions. Simply follow the recipe for a delicious pistachio and kale pesto that will add depth and freshness to the rich pilaf. For crispy onions, we have developed a super easy air fryer recipe (here) that you can whip up in just 30 minutes. Not only are these easy to make, but taste a lot better than shop bought alternatives. Of course, if you’re looking to make a quick dish you can use store bought items as well (we know life is busy). 

If you try this recipe, let us know how it goes! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag your photo #theculinarycartel on Instagram so we can see what you come up with. And if mushrooms are your thing (or your dates), then find even more mushroom recipes here.

Spiced Mushroom Pilaf an easy pistachio kale pesto with crispy onions in a blue dish

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this gluten-free?

This dish is gluten free! Enjoy!

Can I make this vegan?

Absolutely! Just make sure to use a plant-based yoghurt, vegan alternative butter, and stock instead.

What are shallots?

Shallots are a variety of onions, with a delicate and sweet flavour. They can be used in place of onions in most recipes. They are slightly more oblong than an onion, and grow in clusters. You can easily find these in the store, usually located with the onions and garlic.

What is cavolo nero?

Cavolo nero is a loose-leafed cabbage from Tuscany, Italy. It is a type of kale, darker and usually cheaper than your normal kale. Use them interchangeably in this recipe. 

What is chermoula?

Chermoula is a tasty Moroccan style relish made using fresh herbs. You can use this in place of the pesto in this recipe for a herbaceous flavour.


Spiced Mushroom Pilaf an easy pistachio kale pesto with crispy onions in a blue dish
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Spiced Mushroom Pilaf an easy pistachio kale pesto with crispy onions in a blue dish

Spiced Mushroom Pilaf and Pesto

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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Jess Bunn
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Diet: Vegetarian


Impress your partner (and yourself) with this one-pot wonder spiced mushroom pilaf and pesto recipe on Valentine’s Day. This risotto style dish can be enjoyed as a starter, side, or a main meal in under 1 hour!



For the pilaf:

  • 500g Button mushrooms
  • 4 Shallots or 2 Brown onions
  • 5g Butter
  • 2 Star anise
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 4 Cardamon
  • 2 Cloves of garlic
  • 200g Basmati rice
  • 500ml vegetable Stock (hot)
  • Salt, pepper and oil as needed
  • Parsley to serve
  • Optional: Crispy onions to serve – make them yourself (recipe here) or purchase from the supermarket in the Asian section
  • Optional: 60ml Plain yoghurt, seasoned with salt and pepper

For the pesto:

(You can also use store bought basil pesto or a herb sauce of your choice like chermula)

  • 4 leaves / 100g Cavolo nero or Kale
  • 20g Pistachios or nut/seed of choice
  • 1 Clove of garlic
  • 1 Lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup Oil
  • OR use shop bought basil pesto or herb sauce of your choice, like chermoula


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
  2. Wipe the mushrooms with kitchen paper to remove any dirt.
  3. Add a small drizzle of oil to a casserole dish on a high heat, then add the mushrooms and butter. Fry for 2 minutes until the mushrooms begin to colour, then place the dish into the oven, to roast the mushrooms for 10 minutes
  4. While the mushrooms cook, peel and thinly slice the shallots, warm the stock up, wash the rice until the water runs clear, and remove the woody stems from the cavolo nero/kale. Season the warm stock until quite salty to taste (this will absorb into your rice so the saltiness will subside and mellow)
  5. Remove the mushrooms from the oven. Place the casserole dish back onto the hob on medium heat, and add the shallots. Add a little more oil if needed, then cook the shallots for 5 minutes until softened and lightly golden.
  6. Add the spices, and rice, and toast for 1-2 minutes.

    Get Ahead: Don’t want to stand over the stove while entertaining guests
    ? If serving this for a dinner party or special occasion take the rice until this point, then turn off the heat. Make the pistachio pesto, season your yoghurt sauce if using, chop your parsley and gather your crispy onions. Once ready to serve simply heat your casserole dish up again, add the stock and bake. The rice can be prepped this was a few hours, or up to one day in advance.
  7. Add the hot stock to the casserole. Stir until the rice is submerged. Place the lid on the casserole, and place the dish in the oven.
  8.  Bake at 200°C for 13 minutes, then remove from the oven and rest with the lid on for 5 minutes. The resulting rice should be fluffy and cooked through, if not (all ovens are a little different) simply pop the pan into the oven for an additional 5 minutes.
  9. While the rice cooks make the pistachio pesto.
  10. Pour boiling water over the cavolo nero or kale leaves and set aside to wilt. Place the garlic clove and the juice of ½ a lemon into a mini food processor or into a pestle and mortar, and process to a fine paste. Add the nuts, drained greens, and oil and blitz to a chunky pesto. Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper.
  11. Once the pilaf has rested, remove the lid and pick out the star anise and cinnamon stick. Squeeze the remaining half lemon over the rice. Add the pesto, crispy onions and yoghurt, if using, then serve immediately.


Chefs tip: If you want to up the wow factor for presentation, remove the stems of the mushrooms. These can be used chopped in other recipes.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Quick and Easy
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: Mains
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