Chicken soup with rice, comfort food at its finest
If you are spending most of your time at home, as so many folks are right now, then you are probably relying more on cooking from the pantry than going out to eat or even using as many fresh ingredients as usual. Rice is an amazing staple food that stores well and can be used for so many different dishes, and I always keep a decent amount on hand for “just in case” situations, such as we are seeing today.
Stocking up on rice is a great way to add food security to your household, but you may get sick of making plain old rice after a while. Here are 25 delicious and creative ways to use this awesome pantry staple, so you can eat well and have some variety while your food choices may be more limited than normal.
Before you dive into making a big batch of rice to use in the recipes below, a word on properly preparing rice. If you are familiar with concepts like sprouting or souring, such as in sourdough bread, you may already know about why preparing grains through one of these methods is important. If not, I will give you a very brief introduction.
Seed foods — including grains, nuts, seeds, and beans — are the storage form of the seeds for each given plant. Because of this, these foods contain compounds known collectively as anti-nutrients, which are naturally-occurring chemicals used by these plants to keep their seeds dormant during storage. While this is important for the seeds to prevent germination while being stored, these anti-nutrients can bind the minerals such as zinc and magnesium in the seeds (1). This makes nutrients unavailable to us when we eat them, but this nutrient availability can be improved by soaking, souring, or sprouting before cooking.
By adding water, acidity, probiotic bacteria, and/or heat, these compounds, such as phytates and lectins, are deactivated, making the minerals in these foods available to our bodies. These processes also increase the digestibility of their grains and, potentially, their impact on blood sugar (2). Processing grains, such as rice, before cooking them is important but is also extremely easy. Follow the recipe below for soaking rice before cooking, making it more nutritious and digestible, then use it to prepare any of the recipes that follow.
Easy Soaked Rice
Makes 4 cups
- 1 cup rice, white or brown
- Warm water for soaking
- 2 tbs plain yogurt or kefir
- Pinch of salt
- Soaked rice, from above,
- 2 cups water
- Pinch of salt
1. Soak the rice: 6 to 12 hours before you plan to cook your rice, place the dry, uncooked rice in a bowl. Add warm water to cover the rice completely, then stir in a pinch of salt and your kefir or yogurt. Cover with a cloth or lid and let sit at room temperature until ready to cook.
2. Cook the rice: Strain and rinse your soaked rice. Place in a sauce pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the two cups of water and pinch of salt.
3. Leave rice uncovered and bring it to a boil. Cover with lid and reduce to lowest heat setting. Let simmer, without uncovering or stirring. White rice will need to simmer for 15 minutes, while brown rice will need 45 minutes. Just trust the timer on this one and don’t “check” your rice during the cooking period.
4. After the set amount of time, turn off the heat and let the rice sit for 5 more minutes, keeping it covered, to absorb any extra moisture. Then, you can uncover and fluff the rice before serving as-is or using in one of the recipes that follows.
5. Now that you have your perfectly cooked rice, you can use it in a variety of ways! Here are 25 ideas from around the world (we all have rice in common, it seems) for using this amazing pantry staple; click on the hyperlinks to take you to all of the delicious rice recipes.
Laab served with rice
25 Delicious Recipes Featuring Rice
- Fried rice: Fried rice is one of the best ways I can think of to use leftover rice, as it is made even better when the rice has been cooked and cooled. You could add in kim chi for a Korean-style fried rice or shrimp and fish sauce for a Thai-style fried rice. This is also a great way to toss in any leftover veggies you have hanging out in the crisper drawer!
- Rice with sautéed greens and fried eggs: Rice is even great for breakfast, especially if you have leftover rice from last night’s dinner. No recipe needed here: simply heat up your leftover rice and, while it is cooking, steam or sauté some greens, such as kale. Fry up a few eggs over-easy and serve it all in a bowl for a nutritious and easy breakfast.
- Rice pudding: Leftover rice is not only great is savory dishes, but also sweet. Kheer, which is an Indian rice pudding, is sweet and creamy, and has fragrant spices that elevate this dish while filling your kitchen with comforting aromas.
- Spanish rice: Sometimes also referred to as “Mexican rice,” this method of cooking rice with broth, tomato, and spices is delicious served with roasted chicken, beans, and vegetables, or alongside dishes like enchiladas. This is restaurant-style rice that will scratch that itch while you are limited to cooking at home.
- Savory rice fritters: You can add scrambled eggs to just about anything, including rice, then fry it in some fat to crisp it up, giving you a super easy fritter. Think latkes, but with rice! Throw in any spices or veggies you like, and go crazy with the condiments, too.
- Laab: Laab is a Thai dish consisting of ground meat, such as pork, mixed with vegetables and served in lettuce cups. I serve rice alongside the laab or even put it in the lettuce cups with the meat-and-veggie mix, and it is one of our family’s favorite weeknight meals. Feel free to make it with or without organ meats.
- Congee: There is nothing more comforting than porridge, and who couldn’t use a little comfort right now. Congee is a savory rice-based porridge from China, which is made with nutrient-dense broth and is as perfect for breakfast as it is for dinner. Throw in extra meat or veggies to make it a full meal.
- Chicken and rice soup: More comfort food recommendations here, with a chicken and rice soup full of bone broth, slow-cooked chicken, rice and veggies. You can use any type of rice you like with this, including wild rice. The best part is letting the slow cooker do the work for you, which feels great right about now.
- Stuffed winter squash: Make a savory stuffing with rice, fill up a halved winter squash and roast it to perfection…and now you have the perfect side dish for dinner. You can use this concept with any vegetable that is “stuffable” (think eggplant or zucchini) so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to winter squash if you have other veggies on hand.
- Biryani: A one-pot dish is always welcome in my house, which is why I love an Indian biryani. Cook your rice with meat and herbs in one big pot and a fragrant, wholesome dinner is ready to go.
- Homemade sushi rolls: You may have more time on your hands than usual, and a cooking project like homemade sushi if the perfect way to get the family to hang out together. You don’t have to get fancy if you don’t want to; simply fill sheets of nori with rice and any fish or veggies you have around, and have fun, most importantly.
- Rice pilaf: This side dish, which is actually of Middle Eastern origin, can be served with lamb, chicken, fish, or any other protein main dish and is full of herbs and other ingredients that will change up your dinner game.
- Dolmas: Stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmas or dolmades, are another great kitchen project that will take up plenty of time and give you a delicious meal to share with the family. You can use only grapes and spices for a meat-free version, but I love to throw ground beef or lamb into mine to make them a main dish.
- Kitchari: A simple staple in Indian cooking, kitchari combines rice and dal into one pot for easy preparation. This nourishing dish can be served alone or alongside meat and vegetables as a side dish.
- Stuffed peppers: This is a nice weeknight meal that is easy to make but is beloved by all. This is an Italian-inspired version, but you could also make a version like your mom used to, for nostalgia’s sake.
- Coconut rice: Creamy and rich, coconut rice is a nice side dish for a Thai-style curry to tie your meal together. Cooking rice in coconut milk is not only delicious, but adds healthy fats from the coconut as well. Get fancy and top it with toasted coconut, or keep it simple and serve as-is.
- Risotto, but easy: If you are wanting the texture and flavor of risotto but don’t want everything to be a cooking endeavor, then Ina Garten’s “easy” risotto may be the ticket. Everything is made better with parmesan, including rice.
- Paella: Another great one-pot meal, Spanish paella will take more time to prepare but is so worth it in the end. This recipe uses three kinds of meat, seafood, chicken, and chorizo, but this would be a great time to use up whatever protein you have in your freezer. If you don’t have saffron, don’t let that keep you from making this, as it can still be very delicious without it.
- Sweet fried rice balls: You can basically turn leftover rice into little doughnuts by mixing it with flour and sugar then deep-frying it. Try to use a good oil for frying, such as lard, instead of processed canola or vegetable oil. You can make the creole version, known as calas, or an Italian version, called frittelle di riso, or try both. Treat yourself!
- Oxtails and rice: Maybe you got oxtails from your farmer or butcher and you don’t know what to do with them. They shall hang out in your freezer no more…turn them instead into this savory and nourishing Jamaican dish, stewed oxtails with rice. Make it as spicy or mild as you like.
- Cheesy broccoli and rice casserole: Maybe my Midwest is showing, but I had to put a good, old fashioned casserole on this list. This will remind you of family meals growing up, but will be even better because it is made from scratch. If you want, use fancy cheese in this to make it even more grown-up, and substitute spinach if you don’t have broccoli.
- Baked rice pudding: Rice pudding is not just reserved for the stove top. You make this version of rice pudding by baking it in the oven, giving it almost a bread pudding-like feel. I’m all about adding in extra raisins and nuts, then serve with topped with a splash of cream or pat of butter. Breakfast or dessert? You decide.
- Red beans and rice: So many cultures have their own version of beans and rice, as it is made up of some of least expensive, most shelf-stable ingredients around. You just make it more delicious with the spices you add in and it doesn’t have to seem like “cheap” food anymore. I like red beans and rice, Louisiana-style, you could make a Cuban-inspired version using black beans instead.
- Jambalaya: Another Creole dish, as that culinary tradition uses a lot of rice, jambalaya is a great one-pot dish that can feed a crowd. Think of it as the Louisiana version of paella, and, again, add in whichever types of meat or seafood you have access to right now.
- Dirty rice with chicken livers: I could not put 25 recipes ideas up without having at least one featuring liver. Liver is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet (3), and this spicy dirty rice is a great way to “disguise” its flavor for the liver-haters out there.
1 Sandberg, Ann-Sofie. “The Effect of Food Processing on Phytate Hydrolysis and Availability of Iron and Zinc.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Nutritional and Toxicological Consequences of Food Processing, 1991, pp. 499–508., doi:10.1007/978-1-4899-2626-5_33.
2 Benincasa, Paolo, et al. “Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review.” Nutrients, vol. 11, no. 2, 2019, p. 421., doi:10.3390/nu11020421.
3 Razaitis, L. 2005, July 29. The Liver Files.
Laura Poe is a Registered Dietitian and traditional foods instructor. She homesteads in Wisconsin where she regular contributes to Edible Madison. Connect with Laura at Laura Poe, RD, for private practice appointments (distance consults available), upcoming classes, newsletter subscriptions, and more. Her nutrient-dense recipes can be found on Laura’s blog, Brine & Broth, and you can see what she has been cooking and creating on her Instagram @brineandbroth. Read all of Laura’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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