Beef Pilau with Kachumbari (Pilau nyama na Kachumbari)

Pilau is to Kenyans what biryani is to Indians. No celebration is complete without it. Kenya’s diversity reflects in its cuisine too. Over the years, Indians, Arabs, and Chinese have heavily influenced this East African nation.

What is Pilau

Pilau is cooked rice mixed with spices and meat – either beef or chicken and served with a simple homemade salad, locally known as Kachumbari. Kachumbari means salad in Swahili. It is served as a one-pot spicy and aromatic rice dish generally cooked on a traditional coal stove. Pilau is a favorite staple of the coastal regions in Tanzania and Kenya, also influenced by the early Indian and Arab trade era. 

Beef Pilau with Kachumbari (Pilau nyama na Kachumbari (1)


The word ‘Pilau’ is an Indian origin, now used in Arabic countries. It means rice. Africans have adopted the recipe to suit the local taste buds with local produce and adapted it to their region. Similar recipes can be found in many African countries. 


While this recipe uses beef, you can also make it with chicken or mutton. It’s usually not as spicy as the Indian version but is equally flavorsome. Caramelizing the meat enhances the taste. It’s traditionally cooked in a single pot and seasoned with a personalized concoction of spices. 

If you are trying your hand at pilau for the first time, there’s always the readymade pilau spice mixture available in every Kenyan grocery store. Basmati rice is the most preferred option and adds additional fragrance.

If you want to try a vegetarian version, you can also make pilau with veggies like potatoes, carrots, beans. Again it’s an additional flavoring of spices that enhances the taste.

Traditionally pilau is served in a clay pot, but if you are one of those people who cannot eat off anything but plates, then you can serve it in bowls.

Beef Pilau(Pilau nyama na Kachumbari

Cooking Tips

Pilau is one such recipe that’s easy to cook and tastes great. However, you should stick to the old-fashioned ways of cooking pilau to ensure a perfect taste. Let me give you some cooking tips:

  • Traditionally cooked Pilau adds an unmatched flavor and taste. Of course, you can cook it in a pressure cooker reducing the cooking time to approximately 20 minutes. However, I would recommend you to slow cook it on a traditional coal stove or gas flame.
  • If you are unsure what rice to use for this recipe, always go for basmati rice, which quickly absorbs spices and enhances the taste.
  • Adding cardamom, cinnamon or cloves gives it a delicious flavor.
  • The spices are an essential layer of pilau – cook them together with the rice in one go to make it tastier.
  • Kachumbari is an accompaniment that you can prepare by finely chopping onions, tomatoes, cucumber, and capsicum, sprinkling some salt and lime juice.
  • Serve the Pilau hot for optimum taste.
  • You can serve Pilau with chicken, mutton, or beef and a simple salad of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and capsicum spiced up with salt and lime juice.

How to store Pilau

Store the leftover Pilau in an airtight container and refrigerate it for 5 days. It tastes great the following day as the rice absorbs all the spices, enhancing the taste beautifully. Alternatively, you can also freeze it and warm it up when required. 

Side Dishes

The beef pilau tastes great by itself, but the Kenyans prefer to eat it with kachumbari. Depending on your taste preferences, you can also add cucumber, lemon juice, and coriander leaves to it.

Beef Pilau with Kachumbari


What is Pilau Masala made of?

The traditional pilau masala powder is made from a blend of roasted ground spices such as cumin seeds, black pepper, cardamom seeds, and coriander seeds.

Can I add vegetables to Pilau?

Yes, you can add carrots, beans, or any other vegetable of your choice in the cooking process to the meat. 

What are the main differences between pilau and pilaf?

While both pilau and pilaf are rice dishes, there is a slight difference between the two. Pilau refers to rice cooked in rich spices and flavorings, whereas pilaf is an unspiced dish of boiled long-grain rice.

Pilaf is Persian in origin, while pilau is the Indian version of it. 

Is Pilau spicy?

Pilau is not as spicy as the Indian version, but the Kenyan version is quite aromatic and flavourful.

How does the Pilau get its color?

The pilau gets its golden color from the caramelized onions and the spices.

Pilau vs. Biryani

These are two different dishes that cannot be confused as they have different origins, cooking styles, and ingredients. While Pilau is original from Persia, biryani comes from India. You can make Pilau with basmati rice, but it has a different cooking process, and the Indian spices are different. 

More Delicious recipes

I hope we have given you enough insight into what Pilau is and how to prepare it. Don’t forget to comment below and let me know how your Pilau turned out. You can also subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you stay up-to-date!

Beef Pilau with Kachumbari salad.

Beef Pilau with Kachumbari (Pilau nyama na Kachumbari)

Traditionally prepared on coal stoves, Pilau can be quickly cooked in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. The ingredients used in this cooking process give a fantastic flavor and aroma, which adds to its overall taste! This Swahili signature dish is not to miss out on. It tastes great by itself, but the Kenyans love to eat it with kachumbari. If you've never had it before, you should definitely try this dish!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine African
Servings 6
Calories 483 kcal



  • 1 lb Beef cut into stewing chunks
  • 1 teaspoon Ginger grated
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Turmeric
  • 1 Bird’s eye chili
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup Water


  • 2 sticks Crushed cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Crushed cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Crushed cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder


  • 2 teaspoons Vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
  • 4 Irish potatoes skin removed and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon Minced garlic
  • 1 Carrot julienned
  • 1 Red onion chopped
  • 1 cuo Green peas
  • 1 teaspoon Pilau spices
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups Basmati rice


  • 1 Cucumber sliced, skin removed
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper julienned
  • 2 Tomatoes sliced
  • 1 Onion sliced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice


  • For the Kachumbari, combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl except for salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle salt and pour juice over the vegetables. Toss the salad with juice, cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • In another medium-sized pot, combine beef, ginger, lemon juice, turmeric, bird’s eye chili, and salt, then properly coat with beef. Add water and boil over medium heat for 30 minutes. Drain beef and chili from water, discard chili and set water (broth) aside.
  • Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a larger pot, add the beef and cumin seeds, and stir until fragrant.
  • Add potatoes and cook until cooked on the outside.
  • Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • Add carrots and cook until slightly browned but not burnt.
  • Add and sweat onions and green peas and cook until slightly tender.
  • Add pilau spices and thoroughly coat with the beef.
  • Add rice and beef, then add beef broth, cover with a metal lid and boil for 30 minutes.
  • Because most Tanzania and Kenya households lacked conventional ovens at the time, equal amounts of coal at the bottom of the stove are added to the top of the lid. Then, the rice is slowly cooked for up to an hour until ready to serve.
  • Serve the pilau with the Kachumbari!


Serving: 1 portionCalories: 483kcalCarbohydrates: 83gProtein: 22gFat: 16gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 54mgSodium: 78mgPotassium: 1200mgFiber: 6gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 2230IUVitamin C: 67mgCalcium: 80mgIron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it was!

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