10 Ways to Liven Up Plain Steamed Rice

10 ways to liven up plain steamed rice

We eat rice at least once a week either as part of a main dish but more often as a side dish onto which we can ladle stew or a stir-fry or sprinkle soy sauce, and you may have noticed that we usually call for rice each week in The Scramble menus. Solomon and Celia especially love white rice, but they are coming around to brown rice as they get older. If I have rice made or frozen rice on hand, sometimes I’ll mix half brown and white rice and that always goes over well (I don’t cook them together because they have different cooking times).

I like to liven up simple rice by either using a cooking liquid other than water (bouillon or broth is an easy alternative), or by stirring in some fresh herbs, dried fruit, peas, nuts, or other flavor and color boosters. Below are some of our favorite combinations:

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Start with white, brown or wild rice. I usually cook 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry rice per person per serving, and cook 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid. (For our family of four that works out to 1 1/2 cups dry rice if we want to have leftovers).

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  • Vegetable-Spiked Rice: Use half water and half salsa, carrot or tomato juice to cook the rice.
  • Mediterranean Rice: Stir 1 – 2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts and 1 – 2 Tbsp. dried currants or dried cranberries into the cooked rice.
  • Festive Rice: Stir ¼ cup chopped pecans, ¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries, and 1/8 – ¼ cup vinaigrette dressing into the cooked rice.
  • Indian Rice: Cook basmati rice with 1 cinnamon stick, 6 whole cloves and 2 garlic cloves (use water or broth).  Remove the cinnamon, cloves and garlic before serving.
  • Herbed Rice: Stir into cooked rice ¼ – ½ cup chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, scallions, basil or cilantro
  • Rice with Peas and Onions: In a small skillet, sauté ½ diced yellow onion with 1 Tbsp. oil until it starts to brown.  Mix in frozen or fresh peas and sauté it for about 2 more minutes.  Mix the onions and peas into steamed rice.  Season it with salt or soy sauce, if desired.
  • Cilantro Rice: Cook the rice according to the package directions (cook it in light coconut milk, if desired).  When cooked, stir in the juice of ½ lime, ½ cup fresh chopped cilantro, 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt.
  • Curry Rice: In a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, sauté ½ finely diced yellow onion in 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat until the onions are lightly browned.  Add the rice, ¼ tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. curry powder and stir the rice to coat the grains with the oil.  Add the water or broth, bring it to a boil, and cook as directed.
  • Caribbean Rice: Cook the rice in light coconut milk with 1/2 tsp. ground allspice, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or stir in 1 tsp. fresh thyme after cooking), 1/8 tsp. ground cloves.
  • Japanese Rice: When the rice is cooked, stir in 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 cup shelled and steamed edamame, 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, and 1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds or sesame oil (stir in a tsp. of miso paste if you happen to have it.)

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What else do you do to liven up steamed rice? Please share in the comments below.

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20 thoughts on “10 Ways to Liven Up Plain Steamed Rice

sally eyers says:

hi nate, want to make perfect rice every time without mush.
best way buy a rice cooker. they are really cheapm and you get perfect rice every time. the reason most people get mushy rice is because they don’t rince the starch out. to do this you put your rice in your dish put dish under warm water shish with your hand, you will see white stuff tip this out do this three times till all white stach has been tipped out then cook , perfect every time , to cook any rice exept sticky, use this method, happy cooking.

Kevin Harkin says:

Im not great at cooking most dinners pretty bland. Looking for tips to spice up my dinners.

Andrea McCray says:

Hey Kevin H., saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, celery can add flavor. Or cooking rice in a low sodium chicken broth can enhance rice & if you add the other flavorings better. Just be careful with the garlic season to your taste; add a little at a time. Parsley, thyme, any seasoning or flavoring can improve taste. I always taste my seasonings before adding them, you need to watch out for the salt content & flavor. Use a pan spray or healthy butter spread to saute your onion etc. Chicken broth can be substituted for water almost anywhere; it’s bland enough to blend with any meat ( not taste like chicken still). Bouillon cubes are good for adding flavor.

Kevin Harkin says:

Im at the healthy part off my life now. Im trying to make healthy dinners with rice. Most off the time it’s pretty plain. Im afraid to add stuff incase I poison my self haha. Looking for tips please.

jim williams says:

Throw a tablespoon of good chicken buillon , in the water while cooking,Gordons food service carries a good brand, in a small jar, believe it is used for gravy. Very good! jim

Nate says:

I want to know if i can easily cook soy sauce directly into rice before frying it? Have you done this? I’m going to try it anyway ,but wanted to know if this has been done how much soy sauce to add to water…reason is i have a tough time making fried rice at home. It alays turns out mushy or not seasoned enough.

Aviva says:

I would add the soy sauce at the end of cooking–that may be the issue with the sogginess.

Michael says:

Fried rice is best made with day old rice, covered and cooled ,also the soy sauce should be cooked in your very hot wok till it becomes fragrant before adding the rice.

Marion Downard says:

I steam the rice and replace 1/4 cup of the water with soy sauce, so it’s 3/4 cup of water with 1/4 cup of soy sauce to 1 cup of rice. Flavorful and fluffy every time

Pamela Harrington says:

I fix the cilantro rice for my family and they loved it. I will be making this again.

ted says:

super cool! made the cilantro rice for the kids and it was devoured. muchas gracias!

steven says:

P.S. Rice with dill ( persian style) is the only way i make rice for now on. look it up!

I usually add 2 tbspoons of dill with each cup of rice.

It gives a nice flavour as well

Matt says:

I am going to try that. I put dill on my green beans with a tad of butter. That’s good too!

Nicole says:

I tried the rice with peas and onions. I tried it with a little soy too.👌 I got home from work late, was super hungry, saw a bag of jasmine rice and googled “ways to prepare steamed white rice” and this looked like the easiest and yummiest with what ingredients I had in my kitchen at the time. Delicious and I would def make again.

Gillian says:

I recently made rice with citrus zest (from 1 lemon), 1 cup chick peas, diced yellow squash (I used half of a large one), 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes, 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions and the juice of one lemon – mine happened to be a Meyer lemon. Salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Michael Scott says:

Sounds great……but, by the time you add this many ingredients, isn’t it fair to start calling it a “casserole”….or “rice/vegetable jubilee” or something?

I’m not sure where anyone else “draws the line”…but….

Joel A. says:

Yeah, that’s a bit too involved to qualify as regular rice. I could see something like just stirring in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil…but once you KEEP adding things, it’s no longer JUST rice.

Gillian (a different one, or I added the previous comment I my sleep!) says:

P.S. My long comment (i thin it appears *above* this one, was supposed to be a reply @Michael Scott (apt 😉 and @Joel A. I’ll post this again with the reply button and see if it goes where it’s supposed to. (See? Endless experimenting… 😁 >:)

But isn’t that the point? Being tired of plain boring rice and wanting to make it exciting and exotic? But I suppose there are different categories of cook— you guys sound like the kind that, if you must cook, you want the food to be nearly instant — more than one or two steps or ingredients and it’s a hassle. I’m the type that starts out to make a “quick bite” around 10pm because I’ve been working so late I forgot the time, button so get in the kitchen, I have so much fun chopping and sautéing and spicing, stirring, tasting, that by the time my meal is ready to eat, it’s 1am if not later, and my quick bite has turned into two or three different dishes and a salad. I see “just rice” as the obstacle to overcome — if you want the extra flavor without the extra work, buy a pilaf or risotto n a box — that’s usually perfectly straightforward, nutritious, often organic can be found if you care, and it takes no extra time at all. As long as it’s basically one stage — throw everything into the rice cooker together and turn it on, maybe stir in so,etch gels when it’s cooked, — I’ll keep looking for the fancypants ideas! 🙂

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