I grew up not liking rice. It’s possible because it was always whole grain, overcooked and often slightly burnt. As an adult I discovered basmati rice and when I married my husband, who is from Hyderabad in India, I was introduced to a variety of rice dishes. Over the years, mainly through friends and later through cookbooks, I learned a variety of rice dishes that were so flavorful and dense they could stand alone as meals and often outshined their meat counterparts at the dinner table. Here is a collection of the rice dishes I have prepared over the years and many of which are family favorites. For rice dishes that are complete meals with meat, check out the blog post on Main Dishes. You may also like the blog posts on Soups, Salads, Rices, Meats, Desserts and Drinks.
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When I was younger, I found a lot of cooking inspiration from the restaurants we used to frequent. If I could make it at home, we could enjoy those dishes more often and save money. Sometimes it works, other times it’s just acceptable and other times it fails! This Chipotle inspired Mexican rice is my version of the rice you can find at this chain restaurant which we have been going to for years. While I would make this with any rice I had on hand (which is mostly basmati), occasionally, I buy Mexican rice or sticky rice for a recipe. The main ingredients that distinguish this rice are cilantro and lime. You can add lemon as well. I season mine with salt and add a splash of olive oil. You need quite a bit of cilantro and you don’t want to add it too soon as it will lose some of its vibrant green color, so add the cilantro after the rice is cooked. I tried a different way to cook this Mexican rice, as I typically use a rice steamer for Mexican and sticky rice. I tried to cook it the same way I cook basmati rice which is similar to how you would cook pasta. You fill a pot with a lot of water and bring it to a boil. Then you add the rice, making sure there’s plenty of space for the rice to move around in the water and cook. Once it’s al dente, you drain the rice. Mexican rice is shorter and fatter than basmati rice and the final cooked rice is softer, chewier and more starchy (or at least has a stickier consistency). Once the rice is drained, add it back to the pan the toss it with lemon and lime juice, salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Add chopped cilantro and toss again being mindful not to break the rice.
Coconut, Cashew & Curry Rice with Lime
I’m may not be a fan of rice by my family is! Being married to an Indian, I quickly learned how to make the perfect basmati rice from my mother-in-law. Thereafter, I sort of stalled in my skills for rice making and for years made simple basmati rice. Then my Iranian friend, Teyebeh, taught me how to make several Persian rices and suddenly I had found a rice a liked! And now with The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley cookbook, I’m learning to make even more flavorful and robust rices. Ones that could be a meal by themselves.
Today’s recipe is inspired by the cookbook The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley. I say inspired by because I had to make a number of changes to the recipe to suit the ingredients I had on hand to suit our family’s dietary needs. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, when possible, I make our main dishes dairy free to accomodate my son’s dairy allergy. When it comes to Indian and Pakistani cooking, that’s actually more challenging than you think. We learned the hard way that most dishes have dairy in them, from the biryani to the chicken to the bread, even the meat, all of it has some form of dairy. I’ve learned alternatives throughout the years, and certainly it’s changed the flavor of the food.
Today’s curry and lime rice calls for curry leaves which I didn’t have. However, years ago, I planted a curry bush, not to be mistaken for the tree/strub which the curry leaves come from. This curry bush I have resembles rosemary in form, but in smell and taste, it’s unmistakably curry. I’m adding a sprig or two of curry, plus 3 teaspoons of turmeric and 2 teaspoons of salt to a pot of boiling water. We are boiling and draining our rice similar to how you make pasta. So add enough water so that the rice can move freely. Once the rice is al dente, drain in and set it aside. I have soaked 3 cups of rice for this recipe and drained and rinsed it, but sometimes I don’t soak it first. In a separate saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (that’s our coconut flavor, but the recipe calls for coconut pieces), and saute 2 teaspoons of fenugreek (the recipes calls for fenugreek seeds which I didn’t have), and 1-2 tablespoons of chili flakes (the recipe calls for red chilis which I can’t source easily here). To that quickly add 4 tablespoons of red lentils (the recipe calls for lentils that are ground and almost powdery or like flour, but mine didn’t grind well so I left them whole). Add the juice of 5 limes. I also added a sprig or two of curry and a dash of curry powder. Saute until softened. I added water and cooked them until they were soft. Next, add the lentil mixture to the rice in layers and toss gently until well incorporated. Do not mix! We don’t want to break the rice. Lastly, saute in coconut oil until brown a cup of cashews (I used unsalted and raw and another time I used salted and roasted), and add that to the rice as a garnish on top or mixed in.
Afghan Carrot and Raisin Pilaf
I have been enjoying Afghan food for years and only twice have I been taught how to make Afghan food from friends. Both times I learned, I made the recipes over and over again until I felt I would never forget them. Unfortunately, I did. One dish is the famous mantoo which is a time consuming dish to make. It’s probably why I fell out of practice making it and soon stopped making it all together when I forgot how. The other dish was a vegetarian roasted vegetable dish with a flavorful yogurt sauce. Unfortunately, the last time I enjoyed that dish was in 2010 while pregnant with my last child. With a bout of morning sickness that followed, anything I had eaten became something I couldn’t stand the taste and smell of. Sadly, after years of not making it, I also forgot how to make the recipe. So today, I asked my friend for the recipe again!
But if you don’t have someone to ask for a recipe, I recommend you check out The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley for a wide variety of recipes that is sure to delight your taste buds. Every recipe we’ve tried so far has been a winner and each new one we try just keeps getting better. This isn’t a gorgeous cookbook filled with stunning dishes with perfect lighting and table dressings. I do incidentally love those cookbooks. This cookbook is what I imagine my grandmother would have. A bunch of recipes written down with notes about the recipe. That’s what this cookbook is. A collection of recipes with a smattering of black and white pictures throughout. But surprisingly, what this has facilitated is an exploration of recipes based on what ingredients I have, what recipes I want to try and what flavors sound intriguing rather than what the stunning photo looks like.
Today’s recipe is carrot and raisin pilaf and it’s one I have been enjoying for years…not only in Afghan restaurants but in the home of my friends who cook based on recipes handed down from cook to cook. I tripled the recipe and added 3 cups of rice, but didn’t triple everything. I added 4 medium to large carrots, and a cup of raisins. I soaked the rice in filtered water for about an hour, but you can let this soak for hours and even longer if you leave in the refrigerator. I made the Afghan char masala wrong for the second time. The first time, I misread tablespoon and added a teaspoon of everything instead and this time, I added coriander seeds rather than cumin seeds. You can find the original Afghan Char Masala mix on page 12 of the The Silk Road Gourmet. I also omitted the onions, but 1 onion per 1 cup of rice is recommended. I added saffron directly to the carrots and raisins when they are sauteing which colors the rice unevenly in places (when you use the filaments rather than the ground saffron). Once the carrots are softened and raisins plump, I added some broth and then added the rice which was rinsed and drained. Cover the rice and reduce the temperature. Watch the rice often so it doesn’t burn and so you can add water or broth as necessary, but take care not to let out the steam often or it will take longer to cook and need more water. When it’s done, you can gently toss the rice, but don’t mix it so you can avoid breaking the rice.
Chickpea and Dill Rice Pilaf
As a self proclaimed “Not-a-Rice-Fan”, I do make the exception when it comes to Persian rices. They are my favorite and this one did not disappoint. I also don’t care for chickpeas, but when paired with light basmati rice, onions and tomatoes, this rice recipe becomes a meal unto itself. With a slight modification of the recipe, you can make this a vegan or vegetarian recipe easily. As it’s written it calls for chicken broth which infuses the rice with rich flavor that is balanced by the addition of lemon and tomatoes. Onions impart flavor whether they are raw, cooked, sauteed or fried. With a base of tomatoes, onions and garbanzo beans, the rice sits safely on top as the steam cooks the rice to perfection. This recipe was such a hit that my family requested it three days in a row after making it for the first time.
We paired it with orange chicken koresh which is a sweet dish which probably would be better balanced with a plain rice dish, but my children loved the combination. Both recipes are from the book The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley. We are using this book as part of our Silk Road unit study for homeschool and are loving the recipes we are trying out from this book. It contains recipes from several different countries along the ancient Silk Road like Iran, Sri Lanka, Armenia and more.
Upon looking at this recipe, I immediately decided that I needed to double if not triple the recipe. I sauteed 2 onions with olive oil to which I added 5 crushed garlic cloves, 2 diced tomatoes, 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of dill. Shortly after I added 16 ounces of cooked chickpeas. I added about 1-2 cups of chicken broth. After about 5 minutes, I added 2 cups of soaked, rinsed and drained rice. I added another 1-2 cups of chicken broth, then reduced the temperature and let it simmer until the rice was cooked though, but not mushy. I served it with orange chicken koresh.
The original recipe can be found in the Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley on page 111. I swapped out butter for oil to make mine dairy free and used dried dill rather than fresh dill. I made this recipe multiple times, sometimes omitting the fresh ground black pepper suggested in the recipe.
Pomegranate, Date & Pistachio Rice
This is one of our favorite recipes!! I’ve only added fried onions to the recipe as well as a sprinkle of saffron. If you don’t have fresh dill, I’ve swapped it out for dried dill on many occasions. We pair this with a rack of lamb. We got this recipe from the Martha Stewart Living magazine and it’s become on of our favorite recipes ever!!
Nigerian Fried Rice
Few family recipes are all around crowd pleasers. There’s usually at least one person who doesn’t like something I cook. Usually that person is me. And yes, I’m not a fan of this dish…well at first that is. I’m not a rice fan (except for Zeresh and Adas Polo and a new pomegranate rice), so biryani and kibsas don’t interest me. This dish is similar to a biryani or kibsa in the sense that it’s a one pot meal in which the rice will cook with the rest of the vegetables and meat. It’s so easy to make, but it does take over an hour to cook. It takes about 15 minutes to brown the onions and add the tomatoes, spices and other ingredients (that also includes prep time as I chop and prep while the onions are cooking), then 30 minutes to cook the chicken, and another 30 minutes to cook the rice with the chicken. But once it’s done (and if you cook it in a pot big enough), you’ve got food for a dozen servings! This recipe was adapted from the book called Nigeria by Patricia Levy. While we did take some liberties with this recipe, I do believe in capturing the essence and spirit of a historic or regional meal. As these are part of our homeschool lessons, the experience is the primary goal, accuracy is secondary and trying new ingredients is somewhere in there! Actually, I love the idea of trying new foods, but sometimes the pain of finding them often means we are using alternatives which are part of our daily diet and that seems to defeat the purpose. For this meal, I used 6 drumsticks and 4 leg quarters. I seasoned with cumin, curry powder, salt, and onion and garlic powder. I used about 7 cups of water and 4 cups of rice. I added 3 large tomatoes (but I would have preferred more), plus two jalapenos which were medium spicy. I think it would have been tastier if I used chicken or vegetable broth, but I didn’t have any. I also used parboiled basmati rice which I find holds up really well to these kinds of dishes where the rice is soaking with the meat or vegetables. I also used my cast iron large oval pot from Le Creuset which helps ensure even temperatures.
Perfect Basmati Rice
There are three things I want my children to know how to cook well: Rice, fried onions, and eggs. It seems silly, I know, but these three simple recipes are often easily messed up and can be tricky at times. Today, I’m making basmati rice. I learned this method from my mother-in-law and have made it this way for many many years.
Here’s how you do it: First, rinse and soak your rice. This is optional, but rinsing your rice is good practice to remove arsenic and other pesticides or chemicals. If you are using an organic basmati rice, you can skip rinsing, but some rice connoisseurs swear by soaking. You can soak the rice for a few minutes to several hours. In a large pot, fill several cups of water. You are going to be boiling the rice like you would pasta. You’ll need a lot of water so the rice has room to move around. You’ll want to salt your water and wait to put the rice in until the water is boiling. Drain the rice of any excess water and add it to the boiling water. If you cover your rice to bring it back to a boil, watch it! It will boil over. After 8-10 minutes check your rice. If it is firm, but soft. It’s done! If it’s still hard, give it another minute or two. Drain the rice thoroughly and add it back to the pan. You can leave it with no heat or you can put the stove on the lowest temperature setting for just a few minutes. Sprinkle saffron and salt over your warm rice and drizzle with olive oil and grapeseed oil. Give your rice about 5-10 minutes to rest before tossing it and serving it.
Troubleshooting tips: Make sure you have enough water so the rice and move around. If your rice is too soft, quickly rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process. If you drained the rice too early, put it back on the stove, cover it and put the temperature on low. Watch it for 3-5 minutes. The rice should soften up. If your rice is too soft, drain it and put it back on the stove with NO heat. Leave it uncovered and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. It won’t be perfect, but it will allow the water to evaporate.