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When it comes to side dishes, rice is pretty much your no-brainer, goes-with-everything, workhorse par excellence. And while there is a sort of understated elegance to a mound of plain, unadorned rice, sometimes it can feel a little bit, well, plain.

Rice grains work like a sponge, soaking up any spices, broths, or dressings you add to them. The next time you’ve got some meaty or weighty mains on the menu, consider serving one of these delicious rice recipes on the side. They’ll do anything but fade into the background.

And a couple of them can even stand on their own, or nearly so (we never say no to a good side salad). Here are our 11 favorite ways to make rice.

On the surface, this looks like the most boring option on the list. But rice pilaf is a simple and versatile side that you can tweak depending on what you have in the pantry or fridge.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups stock or low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more as needed)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped

Start by cooking onions and garlic, and then cook the raw rice in the pan until it’s toasty. That creates a great base flavor which you can accentuate by adding whatever fresh herbs you like, not to mention anything else you want. spices, nuts, dried fruit, citrus juice, saffron… the world’s your oyster. In fact, have oysters with it — why not?

Get our Rice Pilaf recipe.

This tomato-and-garlic-flavored rice has what it takes to balance out robust dishes like refried beans or heavily-spiced meats. Serve with fajitas or quesadillas, of course (or grilled shrimp, roasted chicken, and so on).

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1 pound medium Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped and cored (about 4 or 5)
  • 3/4–1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more as needed)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 bay leaf

Get our Spanish rice recipe.

Featuring chilis, herbs, scallions, and lime, arroz verde really runs with the green theme, exploring all of the different shades and flavors you can get out of one color.

You’ll need:

  • 2 poblano peppers, coarsely chopped (stems, seeds, and membranes removed)
  • 1 serrano pepper, coarsely chopped (stems, seeds, and membranes removed)
  • 2 medium scallions, coarsely chopped (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 bunch)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice (not converted or instant)
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 medium lime, halved

Get our Spicy Green Rice (Arroz Verde) recipe.

(For another herb-heavy option from a different part of the world, try this Malaysian Herbed Rice recipe.)

Coconut rice is way more than just creamy, fragrant, and delicious. Its richness provides a sturdy contrast to the sometimes sharp and spicy jabs of Southeast Asian cuisine (Malaysian nasi lemak is a must-try — scroll down for a video tutorial).

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 cups jasmine rice or any other long-grain rice, washed
  • 1 can coconut milk (13.5-oz)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • fried shallots for garnish

Get the Coconut Rice recipe.

Lemon and cumin add just enough tartness and spice to rice to make it really pop, but they don’t take the zing too far. These grains are just tame enough to serve alongside other fragrant and vibrant south Indian dishes.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1–2 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, uncooked
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • the juice of 2 lemons
  • cilantro for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal

Get the Indian Lemon Rice recipe.

As if the orange blossom-scented cooking water in this recipe weren’t enough, Iranian jeweled rice tops off the grains with an intoxicating overload of nuts, spices, and dried fruit for a colorful dish that lives up to its name.

You’ll need:

  • 3 cups long-grain white basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons salt, divided
  • 2 large oranges, preferably organic
  • 1 cup whole dried barberries or unsweetened dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, loosely packed
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup orange blossom water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons oil, butter, or ghee
  • 1/2 cup sliced raw almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw pistachios, toasted
  • 1/2 cup golden or green raisins
  • 2–3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks
  • One 4-inch whole cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom, freshly ground

Get the Iranian Jeweled Rice recipe.

Sub in 2 1/2 cups of plain water for the mussel stock in this recipe and you still have rice that holds its own and comes rammed with flavor.

You’ll need:

  • 6 ounces pepperoni, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 brown anchovy, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups Calasparra rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • salt (to taste)
  • a pinch of chile flakes
  • lemon juice, freshly squeezed

That’s because you also cook it with pepperoni, tomato paste, anchovy, and oregano (oh, and more wine), with salt and lemon juice to finish. You can serve it as a side dish with something mild like pork or chicken, but it’s a meaty enough meal in its own right with a simple salad or steamed green veg.

Get our pepperoni rice recipe.

Adding healthful ingredients like ginger and turmeric is an easy way to boost both the nutrition and the aromatics in your rice.

This particular recipe takes it even further by adding dried cranberries, pine nuts, and cilantro to mix it up. But even if you skip those add-ins, you have a delicious side dish with a gorgeous golden-orange color.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon fresh turmeric, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Get the Ginger and Turmeric Rice Recipe.

Classic Cuban black beans and rice is one of the best ways to pair the two. This Moros y Cristianos recipe swaps in brown rice and flavors it with bay leaf, garlic, onion, oregano, and cumin.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup dried beans (soaked overnight in 4 cups of water) or use 1 can of black beans (if you use a can, add an additional 1 1/2 cups water)
  • 1 cup organic brown rice soaked in 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lime juice overnight
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 yellow pepper, finely sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Keep it vegan with the plant-based protein of your liking, or go ahead and top it with pulled pork.

Even without the shrimp, adding the sour and spicy tang of kimchi to rice definitely kicks it up several notches. Whether or not you make this your main or part of a multi-course meal, it’s full of over-the-top character and funk.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8-oz medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Korean chile paste
  • 4 cups steamed white rice or brown rice, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice, freshly squeezed, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 medium scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 medium lime, cut into 6 wedges

Get our Kimchi and Shrimp Fried Rice recipe.

This one requires the extra step of transferring the rice from the pot (where it’s cooked with butter, scallions, onion, garlic, broth, and cream) to a baking dish, but it’s 100 percent worth it. Especially once you see that golden, cheesy blanket on top.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick, plus extra for coating the baking dish)
  • 6 scallions, ends trimmed, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups long-grain rice
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded

This is also another one that works as a meal or a side in smaller portions. Get our Cheesy Baked Rice recipe.

Check out this video about how to make nasi lemak — essentially, coconut rice with accessories. It’s glorious.

However you like the overtones, rice has proven itself time and time again to be a reliable deliverer of flavor and depth. Whether it’s South America, The Middle East, or Asia, rice pairs up with delicious tastes and textures from all over the world.

But what if you’re eating a diet that doesn’t leave much room for rice’s carbs? Fear not. There are also plenty of alternatives to white rice.