Growing up in an Arab-American household, I ate rice daily, as does a huge percentage of the world's population. It's less of a staple in the US, but still ubiquitous—served plain as a pleasant textural contrast for beans, generously spiced and loaded with meat or vegetables in Indian-style biryani, stuffed into peppers and baked, slow-cooked into creamy risotto, molded into balls and fried into Italian arancini, or even blended into Mexican horchata. Rice comes in so many varieties and can be prepared so many different ways, no roundup of this (or almost any) size could do it justice. But these 16 dishes represent a sampling of our best treatments for the stuff. These are the kinds of recipes that will make you think, I really should cook with rice more often—and, indeed, you should.
Lamb or Chicken Biryani
Just one category of rice dishes alone, biryani, itself encompasses a multitude of varieties. This Bombay-style version is made with lamb or chicken, which we tenderize through a long soak in a heavily spiced yogurt-based marinade. Layering spices—cumin, coriander, ginger, star anise, cardamom, and much more—supplies tons of flavor, while potatoes and tomatoes provide bulk and textural contrast.
Clay Pot Rice With Spicy Sausage and Mushrooms
Traditional Chinese clay pot rice is simmered in a pot until it's cooked through and the bottom browns and crisps. Flavoring options are many—here, we take an unconventional route and use spicy Italian sausage and strips of chicken, plus shiitake and wood ear mushrooms. Finish the dish with a simple sauce made of sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Fresh out of clay pots? So am I—fortunately, enameled cast iron works wonderfully.
Cheesy Stuffed Mexican Peppers With Red Chili Sauce
Individually portioned and easy to make, stuffed peppers are a great choice for a casual dinner with friends. We don't hold back on ours, filling them with rice, ground beef, crushed tomatoes, sour cream, cheddar, and American cheese—the latter adds a rich creaminess that's hard to beat using natural cheese alone. Basting the peppers repeatedly during baking with an enchilada-style red sauce, flavored with unsweetened cocoa, chili, and cumin, helps keep them moist.
Andouille- and Rice-Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Creamy Creole Shrimp Sauce
We don't love the term "deconstructed," so let's just say that these plump stuffed chicken breasts are heavily jambalaya-inspired. They're butterflied and pounded thin, then rolled around a spicy mixture of rice, andouille sausage, red peppers, and aromatics. A creamy sauce of shrimp and tomato feels like a properly rich accompaniment.
Chinese Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Lo Mai Gai)
Lotus-wrapped steamed rice (lo mai gai) is a dim sum favorite that can be made in a number of ways, but all of them include at least rice and chicken—the name literally translates to "sticky rice chicken." Ours also piles in shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, pork belly, dried shrimp, and salted egg yolk. To get the rice soft enough to steam, make sure to soak it in water for at least two hours before wrapping it up.
Rich and Creamy Saffron Arancini With Mozzarella
In an attempt to shake off our conception of arancini as dry, bland, and generally unappealing, we did a little experimentation to figure out what combination of ingredients worked best. This recipe hits all the marks, producing beautiful golden specimens with rice centers that are tender and moist but not mushy (thanks to sushi rice coated with a rich béchamel sauce). The rice wraps around diced mozzarella, which melts into long strands, and a pinch or two of saffron provides that nice sun-kissed hue.
Congee and Soup
Ground Pork and Corn Congee (Chinese Rice Porridge)
Congee is a rice porridge that's popular for breakfast and lunch in many Asian countries, and makes a comforting meal to warm your belly anywhere. Our formula for congee that's silky, not sludgy, is 12 parts water to one part short-grain rice. Here, we keep the flavoring scheme simple with fresh corn and ground pork seasoned with Shaoxing wine, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce.
Brown Rice Congee With Beef, Shiitake, and Garlic Chips
As an alternative to short-grain white rice, brown rice imparts a pleasantly nutty flavor and heartier consistency to congee. The technique remains largely unchanged, but you'll need to cut back dramatically on the amount of water you use—five parts water to one part rice is the way to go. To complement the earthiness of the rice, we pair it with meaty shiitakes, marinated beef, and fried garlic chips.
Arroz Caldo (Filipino Chicken and Rice Soup)
Resembling a Filipino take on congee, arroz caldo is a robust chicken and rice soup seasoned with onion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. Tender, flavorful thighs, rather than chicken breasts, are our cut of choice. Frying the garlic topping might seem like an unnecessary extra step, but believe me—it's too delicious to skip.
Green Risotto With Mushrooms
A collection of rice recipes would hardly be complete without a few risottos, and this dairy-free version is perfect for Vegan Month. Home cooks often shy away from risotto because of its reputation for being fussy and time-consuming. But fear not: By using a wide, shallow pan and low heat, you can cook perfect risotto with hardly any stirring. This one gets flavor from olive oil, wild mushrooms, handfuls of fresh greens and herbs, and a bit of soy sauce.
Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto
If cooking risotto in a pan is easier than you might have thought, a pressure cooker makes it an absolute snap. Simply add all your ingredients, seal the lid, and cook at low pressure for five minutes. That's really all there is to it. Using this technique, we make a creamy, intensely mushroom-y risotto with dried porcini and mixed fresh mushrooms. A splash of cream just before serving leaves the risotto velvety-smooth.
Easy Vegan Pressure-Cooker Miso Risotto
A little miso paste provides a shot of savoriness in the mushroom risotto recipe above. Here, though, miso isn't just the secret ingredient—it's the primary flavor in this dish, which winds up so creamy and loaded with umami that you'd never guess it's vegan. Use mild light yellow or white miso to avoid overwhelming the rice.
Baked Saffron Risotto With Mozzarella and Crispy Topping
To produce a wonderful saffron-tinged risotto that can be made ahead of time, we've borrowed from the key principles of our arancini recipe—using sushi rice instead of arborio or carnaroli (though those will also do), and coating the rice with béchamel to keep it moist when it reheats. Fold mozzarella into the rice, sprinkle the top with panko, and refrigerate until you're ready to bake.
Cold, refreshing Mexican horchata is usually made with rice and nuts, and often lightly spiced with cinnamon. But there's no reason to stick with the traditional flavoring scheme if your imagination is running wild. In this variation, called horchifresa, we add fresh strawberries and agave nectar for a bold fruit flavor and a touch of acidity.
For a horchata that's a little more intense, keep the cinnamon, nut, and rice base and turn it dark and roasty with coffee beans—we grind the beans with the other ingredients and let them soak overnight, essentially adding a shot of cold-brew to the drink. I'd take this over a regular old cup of coffee any morning.
Our last horchata variation looks to Asia for inspiration. Lemongrass and ginger are traditionally used for seasoning rice all over the continent, so why not use them in a rice-based drink? The bright and spicy flavors make for a pleasantly surprising twist on a beverage that usually leans to the sweet and milky.