Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

A pretty piece of salmon deserves a great side dish.

Growing up, we almost always ate Near East rice pilaf with our salmon. It was a staple that I never really appreciated until I went to college. I remember coming home for vacation during my freshman year and eating my mom’s home cooking again (the best part of coming home, even better than showering with no flip flops on!). We were eating salmon, rice pilaf, and probably string beans, and all the sudden I loved rice pilaf. It was pure nostalgia! Funny how I still remember that moment.

Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon with Rhubarb Sauce

Recently I got a craving for Near East again and decided I’d try to recreate it on my own rather than stocking up on the boxes. (They’re expensive!) Some rice, orzo (little rice-shaped pasta), and spices, and I was in business! My favorite part is the yellow color the turmeric lends the rice. I don’t know what I thought turned it yellow before… magic, I guess!

Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

This homemade version took no more time to make than the boxed version. And the best part is that you’re significantly cutting down on the sodium found in the Near East rice pilaf.

I’m not usually one to focus on getting too much or too little of a specific nutrient – I’d rather focus on the bigger picture. BUT many packaged foods are high in sodium, which is a signal that they’re heavily processed. To me, a high sodium content usually means that this food would be healthier if I made it at home myself.

Here is the Near East package. 780 mg of sodium per serving!

Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

So how much sodium does the same rice pilaf have when you make it at home from scratch?

The answer: 620 mg… TOTAL in the entire recipe. With 5 servings!

Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

That’s 124 mg of sodium per serving, less than 16% of the boxed version. The rice, orzo, and olive oil have no sodium – it all comes from the vegetable broth and salt. Even if you were to double the salt, you’re still at less than 30% of the sodium of the boxed version. Where does all that sodium in the box come from? I’m not sure, but I can tell you this: it tastes just as good when you make it at home!

I love a good copycat recipe, and this rice pilaf is no exception. It’s cheaper than the packaged version you’re used to, has less sodium, and is easily scaled up to feed a crowd. What’s not to love?

Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf

4.0 from 3 reviews
Copycat Near East Rice Pilaf
Hands-on time
Cook time
Total time
Yields: 4-6
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1/3 cup orzo pasta (found at Whole Foods or specialty grocery stores)
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (increase to 1/2 tsp if you prefer your dishes saltier)
  1. Bring broth, water, and butter/olive oil to boil in a small pot.
  2. Add rice, orzo and spices and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes.
  3. Fluff with a fork and serve.


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  1. says

    I love your homemade version of an old favorite! My dad used to whip up Near East Rice Pilaf all the time when I was in high school. SO good! Your version sounds easy, healthy, and cheap! The perfect side dish to that amazing salmon!

  2. says

    I’m so there! I love anything rice and turmeric related and love this recipe! A perfect accompaniment to that delicious salmon!

  3. Marcia says

    I would like to use brown rice instead of white and I usually cook my brown rice in the pressure cooker (takes 15 minutes!). Would you recommend putting it together the same way and just cooking it for 15-18 minutes in the pressure cooker? Thanks! You have made my husband VERY happy!

    • Erica says

      Hmm I’ve never used a pressure cooker, so I’m not sure. I imagine it would work exactly the way you said! Hope you and your husband enjoy :)

  4. anita says

    WOW! thank you so much for posting this! I, too, have good memories of this with my mom’s home cooking but will definitely be making this healthier version instead for my family. Thanks again!

      • anita says

        I made this last night and it was incredibly easy and so delicious. Thanks again for posting this! I’ve pre-measured the dry ingredients in a tupperware in the pantry so its ready for the next round.

  5. April says

    I don’t know if you know this, but the ingredient “autolyzed yeast extract” is actually another name for MSG. As soon as I realized it, I decided to search for an alternative to Near East. I’m excited to try this tonight!

  6. Grrr says

    This recipe tastes little like the near east rice pilaf, and judging by the box onion powder should be added, plus the spicing comes out too subtle, vs. the near east pilaf.


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