Too many people see rice as a boring pantry staple that’s only used to add bulk to meals. But rice is actually one of the most versatile foods in the kitchen, used across many cultures as a perfect base for a range of flavors.
Rice can be enjoyed as a side dish, a main meal, a dessert, and even as a breakfast treat! Dress it up or keep it simple, once you’ve mastered a few basic rice dishes, this pantry essential will become your go-to grain.
Rice is so much more than just a side dish! Check out our guide to the best rice dishes from around the world for ideas on how to celebrate this glorious grain.
Rice has a reputation for being difficult to get perfect, and there is some truth to the rumor. Bad rice is gooey and sticky, and burns brown stains on the bottom of the pan.
But that doesn’t mean you have to invest in a rice cooker just to make edible rice. Instead, learn how to make stove top rice with these simple tips. The key is to allow the rice to steam, keeping the heat low and the lid firmly on.
Mexican brown rice transforms a simple grain into a richly flavored tomato dish. The first step is to toast the rice, imparting a nutty flavor to the grain. The rice is then simmered in a tomato sauce, and baked in the oven.
Every bite is infused with flavor, elevating this simple side dish. Add a quick protein boost by stirring through a can of black beans at the end, and enjoying with sliced avocado.
3. Fried Rice
Learn how to make a basic fried rice dish, and you’ll have a quick, filling, and comforting meal on hand for whenever you get hungry.
Fried rice uses pre-cooked and chilled rice, which is then fried with a simple sauce, a handful of your favorite vegetables, and a couple of eggs.
It’s the best way to use up any leftover rice from yesterday’s curry, and it’s incredibly versatile. Throw in any vegetables you have hanging around the fridge, or introduce some of your favorite proteins.
Much of the flavor in kimchi fried rice comes from the kimchi itself, which is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented cabbage. Kimchi juice is packed with chili, garlic, and ginger, and it adds a burst of flavor to any meal.
To increase the heat, gochujang red pepper paste is mixed with the kimchi juice, and poured over when the rice has almost finished cooking. Top with a fried egg, to mellow the bold flavors.
If you’re used to rice being a bland side dish that’s only good for soaking up better flavors, then try cilantro lime rice and change your mind. The rice is toasted in sautéed garlic, before being simmered until tender, and mixed with lime and cilantro.
Vibrant and flavorful, this is a perfect side dish to grilled fish and chicken. It also complements Mexican flavors well, so add it to your burritos, or prepare a dish for your next taco Tuesday (see also ‘16 Great Recipes For Your Leftover Taco Meat‘)!
6. Coconut Rice
Coconut rice is a Thai classic, and pairs wonderfully with classic Thai flavors.
This recipe ramps up the coconut flavor by using coconut water in place of regular water. It adds to the aromatic coconut taste, without increasing the sweetness that’s already present from the coconut milk.
A sprinkling of desiccated coconut enhances the flavor even further, and brings a unique texture to the rice. You can enjoy this side dish with sweeter flavors, or along savory Thai curries.
Risotto is a traditional Italian dish that uses slow cooked arborio rice to give the meal a creamy texture. Risotto is something of a labor of love. It isn’t difficult to cook, but it does require constant work.
The rice is cooked in an uncovered pan, and only a small amount of broth is added at a time. Once absorbed, more broth is poured in.
The process is repeated until the rice has turned tender and creamy. Be patient. It might take some time, but it’s worth doing right.
Rice can add bulk and texture to a salad, and we love the earthy and nutty flavors of this wild rice salad. Wild rice is combined with almonds, pistachios, dried cranberries and apricots, and currants.
Decorated with baby greens and pomegranate seeds, and drizzled with pomegranate molasses and red wine vinegar dressing, this salad looks as good as it tastes. Vegan-friendly, serve wild rice salad as a side dish during the holiday season.
9. Sushi Rice
Sushi rice is a short grain Japanese rice that’s used in – you guessed it – sushi. Seasoned with a vinegar dressing, sushi rice (see also ‘The 9 Best Sushi Rice Brands For Making Sushi’) is able to stick together, making it the perfect rice to use in sushi dishes.
If you want to try your hand at making sushi (see also our article on serving tobiko), then you need to master cooking sushi rice. The washing and soaking stage is very important to achieving the right texture, so make sure not to hurry the process.
10. Cajun Fried Rice
By adding classic Cajun flavors to yesterday’s rice, Cajun fried rice transforms leftovers into something exciting.
Cajun spice typically combines a mixture of cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, and you can make your own, or pick some up at your local grocery store.
Grab some chicken andouille sausage (see also ‘28 Chicken Sausage Recipes To Liven Up A Healthy Diet‘) as well, for another key flavor profile in this dish. By cooking everything in batches in just one pan, the rice is able to absorb all the flavor, while none of the ingredients are overcooked.
Biryani is a fragrant Indian rice dish, simmering rice alongside vegetables and spices.
This vegetarian biryani requires very little hands-on work, as the skillet or Dutch oven does most of the cooking, infusing the rice with a rich blend of flavors.
Finish with a handful of cashews, and serve with your favorite chutney. If you’ve never had biryani before, it will quickly become your go-to dish when you want something that looks and tastes impressive, with very little effort.
12. Seafood Paella
Paella is a rice dish that’s synonymous with Spanish cuisine. It’s best cooked in large batches, and served straight from the pan. Paella should be cooked low and slow, with a sudden burst of heat at the end to brown the rice at the base.
We recommend making the effort to find saffron, as this traditional ingredient brings the distinctive golden coloring of paella, and a hint of aromatic flavor. If you can’t find saffron, add a pinch of turmeric for a similar effect.
Sizzling rice soup is a Chinese-American recipe that combines a hearty broth with a cooked rice topping. The soup itself simmers broth with mushrooms, chicken, seafood, and vegetables.
Steamed rice is dried and baked, before being quickly fried and added to the pre-prepared broth.
It’s relatively quick to make, but everything needs to be prepared in advance, so you can enjoy the entertaining sizzle of the rice as the oil hits the soup. Serve the soup at the table, and top with the rice as soon as it’s finished frying.
Ginger fried rice is a Chinese favorite, and it complements Asian flavors as a delicious side dish. This ginger fried rice recipe does things a little differently, shaking up the cooking order for a fresh take on a traditional dish.
Topped with a fried egg, ginger fried rice becomes a main meal, rather than a side. But if you want to keep things traditional, scramble the eggs in as you fry the rice, and mix through with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Southwest rice skillet is an excellent dish when you want something hearty, family-friendly, and based on pantry essentials.
Cooked brown rice is fried with a delicious mixture of spices, black beans, salsa, and green chiles, plus diced and steamed sweet potatoes.
Finished with a handful of cheese, this meal is a real crowd pleaser. Keep things veggie, or thrown in some shredded chicken for added protein.
Chicken and rice casserole (see also ‘28 Fantastic Chicken Casserole Recipes For Tasty Midweek Meals‘) is a childhood favorite for many of us, and this recipe doesn’t mess with a classic. Cooking the rice in chicken broth adds even more flavor, and as the rice simmers, you have a chance to prepare the rest of the ingredients.
The rice is then combined with cooked chicken, sautéed veggies, and cream of chicken soup. Finish with the cornflakes topping, and bake in the oven until brown.
Nasi goreng is an Indonesian variation on classic fried rice, traditionally made with shrimp powder and Kecap Manis (a star anise infused soy sauce). If you can get your hands on those, then they can really take this rice dish up a level.
But this recipe for nasi goreng offers some more accessible ingredient options that you can pick up at your local grocery store. Soy sauce and maple syrup replace the traditional seasonings, and the dish is just as delicious.
18. Wild Rice Soup
Rice and soup is an amazing rainy day combination, as warming broth and filling grain come together in a dish that tastes like you’re wrapped in a blanket.
The nutty flavors of wild rice are used here alongside mushrooms, for an earthy depth that’s just right for fall. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread, or a chopped salad.
Spanakorizo is Greek comfort food, a spinach and rice dish that’s incredibly creamy. It has similar flavors to spanakopita, a spinach and feta pie, but is so much easier to make.
When you’re craving spanakopita, but don’t feel like struggling with filo pastry, try this dish instead!
You need a lot of spinach, a heavy glug of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous sprinkle of feta cheese. Every mouthful is packed full of taste, and it’s surprisingly healthy.
Looking for a one pot meal that is overloaded with flavor? Try Jambalaya, an American Creole and Cajun dish that’s similar to gumbo, but with the addition of rice.
The rice adds extra heartiness to the dish, and absorbs some of the Cajun flavorings (see also our favorite Cajun dishes) that are released throughout the cooking process.
Jambalaya is one of those dishes that changes from kitchen to kitchen, and chef to chef. Try your hand at this recipe, and then experiment with your own flavors.
Layering lentils, rice, and caramelized onions, Mujadara is a vegetarian Middle Eastern dish that’s inexpensive while delivering elegant flavor.
The rice and lentils can be cooked together to save time and washing up, while you get on with caramelizing the onions.
Everything is then mixed together, and served with a dollop of yogurt on the side. You can enjoy it on its own, or serve with a spicy sauce for some added heat.
The best part of Tahdig is hidden away as you cook. Parboiled rice is mixed with yogurt, oil, and saffron, and then layered in the pan with dried fruit and cinnamon.
Topped with butter, the rice is then cooked again, and a deliciously golden and crisp crust forms on the bottom.
Tahdig needs to be tipped out to serve, so the golden topping can be appreciated. Combined with the fluffy inner rice, this dish is an explosion of texture.
23. Baked Arancini
Arancini is created using leftover risotto. The creamy rice is rolled into a ball, stuffed with cheese, and coated in a crispy topping. Traditionally, arancini is deep-fried until golden.
However, for a slightly healthier variation – that’s easier to cook for a dinner party – try baking your arancini balls instead. They’re still delicious, and you don’t have to struggle with a pan of hot oil. Serve as an appetizer with a tomato based dipping sauce.
24. Arroz Con Pollo
Literally translated to rice with chicken, arroz con pollo is a Spanish dish that comes together in under an hour, in just one pan. There are quite a few variations to arroz con pollo, but rice, chicken, peppers, and onions are traditional.
Add cayenne pepper for a touch of heat, and sprinkle with lemon juice for a vibrant finish. For a traditional golden coloring, soak saffron strands in water, and stir through when the dish is almost finished cooking (see also ‘23 Delicious Recipes That Will Get You Using More Saffron‘).
Replacing the bread in stuffing with rice might seem like a strange idea, but this lighter stuffing alternative is still bursting with flavor. By switching bread with rice, the dish is healthier, and not quite so bulky.
So, you can indulge in all the other carb-heavy thanksgiving sides! With apple, butternut squash, pecan, and fresh herbs, wild rice stuffing is both a delicious side, and a filling main meal for vegetarian dinner guests.
Golden fried rice gets its bright yellow color from egg yolks, which the boiled rice grains are soaked in before frying. Each grain gets a coating of yellow egg yolks, which provides both color and flavor.
As the rice cooks, it begins to pop, letting you know that it’s ready to eat. Golden fried rice is best cooked in small batches, making it a fantastic dinner for one that still delivers on flavor.
Rice and lentils are combined to make Kitchari, an Indian spiced dish with a texture similar to porridge. Split mung beans, also known as moong dal, are cooked alongside rice in an aromatic blend of spices.
The longer cooking time needed for the lentils means the rice goes soft, and provides the creamy texture of a classic Kitchari. Serve with a drizzle of ghee, for added creaminess.
Kedgeree is a British dish, originally based on Indian Kitchari, but now quite different! Kedgeree uses smoked fish and soft cooked eggs to create a rice meal that can be eaten any time of day.
It’s particularly good as a filling breakfast before a long morning outdoors. Boiled eggs are traditional, but switch for fried or poached if you prefer. And try different smoked fish, to mix up the flavor profile.
Often served as a breakfast dish, sinangag is the best reason for getting out of bed in the morning. To make sinangag, you need just four ingredients: leftover rice, minced garlic, salt, and oil.
This is perhaps the best way to use up leftover rice that has been sitting in the fridge overnight. Sinangag is only for garlic lovers, as an entire head is used to make just six portions.
Onigiri is one of the best uses for Japanese rice, and a great starter recipe for those who have never made sushi before. Cooked rice is carefully molded into a triangle, and filled with spicy cod roe and pickled plums.
A strip of nori is then wrapped around the base, so that you can hold the onigiri in your hands as you eat. A quick tip: use wet hands when shaping your rice, or you might find the entire onigiri sticks to your palms.
Turmeric provides golden rice pilaf with the vivid amber color that is just one of the reasons this dish is so well-loved. The recipe comes together quickly, and requires very little hands-on cooking time.
Pomegranate arils and sliced almonds are the perfect topping, adding jewel-like interest to an already attractive dish. Golden rice pilaf is a side, but one that’s so good you might forget about the main course.
32. Chicken Congee
If you’re used to having oatmeal for breakfast, shake things up a bit with congee, a savory Chinese porridge. Congee is known by many names, and is eaten across Asia, traditionally using whichever grains are easiest to find.
Nowadays, congee is most often made using rice and chicken. Prepare a big batch, and share with the entire family. Congee is also made when feeling ill — similar to chicken noodle soup!
Most of us have fond childhood memories of tucking into rice krispie treats. Gooey and soft, rice krispie treats combine puffed cereal with melted marshmallows and butter.
Always popular with children, rice krispie treats are just as good for grown-ups! Keep them simple, or add your favorite mix-ins.
Be careful when pressing the mixture into the pan to cool. Press too hard, and your rice krispie treats will become stiff, and difficult to bite into.
Horchata is a rice recipe that you can drink! This cooling Mexican beverage is made from a blend of rice, milk, cinnamon, and sweetener.
If you’re wondering exactly how you drink rice, the key to horchata is to blend your rinsed rice until it’s a fine powder, and leave it to soak in water overnight.
The mixture is then strained, so any lumps are removed, and everything is mixed with milk and sweetener. It might sound strange, but it’s actually delicious.
Glutinous short grain rice is used to create biko, a Filipino (see also ‘33 Authentic Filipino Recipes‘) sticky rice cake that tastes like a warm hug! The rice is soaked overnight, and cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water.
It’s then baked in the oven, topped with a layer of caramel. Be careful when serving because the caramel is very hot, and because it’s very tempting to devour an entire pan in one go.
36. Rice Pudding
Lush and creamy, rice pudding is a dessert treat for a cold day. It’s easy to adjust the sweetness levels with rice pudding, to make a dessert that’s absolutely perfect for your taste buds.
Once you have that thick yet smooth texture sorted, you can start to play around with spicing and ingredients. In winter, use festive spices such as cinnamon for an aromatic kick. In summer, top with fresh berries.
Perhaps the most unexpected method of eating rice, rice krispie treat pancakes are a breakfast surprise for those with a sweet tooth.
Combining gooey and crunchy rice krispie treats with a fluffy pancake batter, this recipe is sure to please both kids and adults alike.
Small sections of rice krispie treat are actually cooked into the pancake, bringing a fun texture. Enjoy with brown butter syrup, for an indulgent breakfast.
38. Arroz Con Leche
Arroz con leche is a Spanish sweet rice dish. The rice is cooked low and slow, with milk added in batches and stirred until absorbed. This process is repeated until the rice has turned perfectly soft, and is ready to be enjoyed.
The cooking process is similar to risotto, and it does require some patience. However, the creamy result is a family-friendly dessert with flavors that can be adjusted to suit even fussy children.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Secret To Cooking Good Rice?
Good rice is fluffy and tender, soaking up the flavors of other foods. Rice should be rinsed before cooking, and well drained. The ratio of water to rice is important: use roughly 2 cups of water for every cup of rice.
Place the rice in boiling water, cover, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the water has been absorbed, and don’t lift the lid!
When the water is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat, but leave the lid on. Let the rice steam for 10 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.
Why Use Leftover Rice For Fried Rice?
The best rice to use for fried rice is yesterday’s leftovers. Left overnight in the refrigerator, rice can firm up, so it won’t turn mushy when fried. Make sure to heat it through thoroughly when frying.
What Do You Add To Rice To Make It Less Boring?
There’s plenty that can be added to rice to make it more exciting. For a quick fix, try cooking your rice in broth or coconut milk, instead of water.
Fried rice is a speedy way to transform leftover rice into a flavorsome new dish, and you can add whatever spices take your fancy. Or try a recipe like Mexican rice, which cooks the grains in a rich tomato sauce.
If you believe rice is nothing but a bland side dish, we hope this guide has caused you to rethink! Rice can be used to make hearty breakfast, exciting meals, and even creamy desserts.
Experiment with rice dishes from around the globe, to see just what this fantastic grain can do.