While perfectly cooked rice rarely needs adornment, there are so many ways to add different flavors and textures to plain rice if the mood strikes. Here are some of our favorites.
Three Easy Ways to Zhuzh Up Your Rice
Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter
10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
Toast the Grains in Fat
Before adding any liquid, first toast the raw grains in butter or oil. This is the first step for pilaf preparations, adding a nutty flavor and ensuring the grains cook up separate instead of clumpy. It also presents an opportunity to introduce even more flavor: You can bloom spices or sweat onions, garlic, or ginger in the oil before adding the rice for an extra bump of flavor.
Basic Rice PilafPlain rice has its place at the table. But we’d rather invite something more interesting.
Swap Out the Water
Try using a liquid other than water to cook the rice. Use stock for a traditional pilaf; add some pureed tomato, jalapeño, and garlic for Mexican-style rice; or use coconut milk and a touch of sugar for a creamy and delicately sweet Thai-style coconut rice.
Easy Mexican RiceThis staple side’s beauty lies in its simplicity and a careful balance of fresh flavors.
Go Wild with Stir-Ins
The easiest way to add extra flavor and texture to rice is with garnishes right before serving. Stir in toasted nuts, dried fruit, fresh herbs, lemon zest, or even sautéed vegetables. Fold in any extra pesto or salsa verde you happen to have in the fridge. Or go one step further and make a rice salad.
For rice salad, we prefer to first cook rice using the pasta method to ensure distinct grains: Add rice to lots of boiling water, and drain it in a fine-mesh strainer when it’s tender. Once cooled, toss the rice with a vinaigrette and your favorite salad components: I’m partial to salty crumbled cheeses and lots of bright-tasting herbs, but a hearty rice salad can stand up to almost any vegetable, fruit, or protein you’d want to add.
Skirt Steak with Tomato, Corn, and Brown Rice SaladA faster cooking method for brown rice helps this punchy steak supper come together in less than an hour.
Bonus: Make Fried Rice
OK, I know I said I’d just be talking about three tips, but I’d be remiss not to address leftover rice. Fried rice is always the answer to leftover rice. When refrigerated, cooked rice hardens into the perfect texture for making fried rice: It easily separates into individual grains and, once cooked in an aromatic oil, softens to the perfect tender texture without turning mushy. And that flavorful oil? It can be as simple as cooking a bunch of chopped garlic in vegetable oil until it’s golden brown. Easy!