Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash – This gorgeous wild rice pilaf recipe is made with butternut squash, pecans, cranberries, and more! (Gluten-Free + Vegan)
I’ve been having a bit of a moment with wild rice this year. (Does it still count as a moment if it’s been most of a year? Nevermind.)
It’s nutty, it’s hearty, it’s satisfying, and it plays SO WELL with all kinds of flavors. Today, I’ve got a delicious wild rice pilaf recipe that ties in some of my favorites. This is the perfect dish for Thanksgiving since it could be used as stuffing or as a tasty side dish, AND it’s naturally gluten-free and vegan which makes it a slam-dunk for guests with allergies or dietary restrictions.
There are even a couple of tricks you can use to make this ahead of time if you plan to serve it for Thanksgiving! (Which is amazing because who DOESN’T need more time freed up on Thanksgiving?!)
Here’s what you need to get started…
HERE’S WHAT GOES INTO MY WILD RICE SQUASH PILAF
WILD RICE BLEND. I typically use a blend of rice rather than straight wild rice for my pilaf. My usual is Lundberg wild rice blend. (not sponsored!) It’s a great mix of rice, cooks consistently, and works well here.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH. I love butternut squash in the fall and winter, and it pairs so nicely with the heartiness of the rice, and the other beautiful fall-inspired flavors of this wild rice pilaf. (Learn how to dice butternut squash here)
KALE OR SPINACH. For a pop of color and a little vitamin boost, I sneak in some kale (or spinach, if you prefer!). It cooks down to practically nothing and looks so pretty here.
PECANS. The crunch of pecans is so lovely with the creamy squash and the hearty rice. Toasting your pecans adds extra flavor, so if you have a few minutes to spare, I highly recommend toasting the pecans first!
DRIED CRANBERRIES OR CHERRIES. Dried cranberries are like sweet little jewels in this wild rice pilaf recipe. I love their subtle color and delicious flavor.
A LITTLE DRESSING + SEASONINGS. It’s not totally traditional, but adding a little balsamic dressing to this pilaf gives LOTS of lovely flavor. It ties everything together beautifully!
FAQ + TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST WILD RICE PILAF.
CAN I MAKE THIS IN ADVANCE? If you’re looking to prep in advance you have a few options. You can cook the wild rice a day ahead of time, then reheat it before tossing it with the other ingredients (my preferred method). Or, you can assemble the whole pilaf other than the pecans a day in advance, then reheat the pilaf and finish with the pecans right before serving. It’s up to you! (I usually reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove with 1-2 Tbsp. of water.)
TRY COOKING YOUR RICE WITH BROTH! One easy way to add a layer of flavor is to cook your rice with chicken or veggie broth instead of water. Make sure you use yummy broth since you *will* be able to taste it in the finished dish!
TRY ONE OF THESE YUMMY VARIATIONS:
- FRESH HERBS. You can add a pretty pop of color with a smattering of fresh parsley right at the end. Or, for a heartier flavor, add a little bit of fresh rosemary or thyme. A little goes a long way, so start small and add more, to taste.
- TRY ADDING CHEESE. If it works with your dietary needs, you can totally add a few crumbles of feta cheese to this pilaf. Its salty tang is a natural fit with the other flavors in the dish.
- SPRINKLE WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS. Another beautiful way to finish your wild rice pilaf is with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds right before serving. Their bright tang is lovely with the other flavors and they look like little gems tucked into the rice! (Tip: How to Seed a Pomegranate)
- ADD SOME SAUSAGE (NOT VEGAN). If you’re not vegan, you can also brown 2-4oz of sausage before cooking the butternut squash. Adding sausage makes this a bit more like wild rice stuffing. It’s bold, filling, and very tasty!
TURN IT INTO A MEAL. You can easily elevate wild rice pilaf from a side dish to a main dish by adding some cooked shredded chicken or cooked crumbled sausage. Either will add a protein boost and some stick-to-your-ribs power!
HERE ARE A FEW MORE TASTY SIDE DISHES TO LOVE:
- Paleo or Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole
- Green Beans with Balsamic Pepper Relish
- Gluten-Free Stuffing
- Orange Honey Cranberry Sauce
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- Vegan Mushroom Gravy
- Powerhouse Quinoa Salad
This Wild Rice Pilaf is a hearty, filling side dish that’s perfect for the holidays! (Gluten-Free + Vegan)
FOR THE WILD RICE PILAF:
- 1 cup wild rice blend (I like Lundberg Wild Rice + Brown Rice Blend)
- Water per your package instructions (For Lundberg, it’s 1 3/4 cup water)
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
- 3 cups shredded kale (tough stems and ribs removed and cut or torn into thin ribbons)
- 1/3 cup toasted pecans
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Balsamic dressing (recipe below)
FOR THE BALSAMIC DRESSING:
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
- 1–2 tsp. Dijon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- Cook your wild rice blend according to your package instructions. (For me, I rinse the rice in a sieve, then add to my saucepan. Add 1 3/4 cup water (or broth), and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand an additional 10 minutes.
- When the rice is about 15 minutes away from being finished, start cooking your squash. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add squash and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook 10-12 minutes, or until squash is softened and turning golden on the sides.
- Add kale and cook an additional 2-3 minutes, or until kale has wilted down. Remove from the heat.
- When the rice is finished cooking, add the squash/kale mixture to the rice. Add pecans and cranberries.
- Add dressing a little at a time, until you’ve reached your desired amount (I almost always add all of the dressing. You may prefer less.)
- Stir with a fork to combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, as desired.
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Wild rice pilaf, butternut squash wild rice pilaf, wild rice squash salad, wild rice squash pilaf