Mexican rice is the perfect side dish to pair with a plate of tacos, beans, or fajitas. The recipe is easy to make and infused with flavors of garlic, onion, cumin, and tomatoes.
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Maybe you’re looking for a restaurant-style Mexican rice dish to pair with your carne asada. This simple recipe is a popular choice that can complete your meal. I’ll show you how to transform bland grains of white rice into a flavorful pot, bursting with subtly sweet and earthy notes.
The rice is toasted on the stovetop to develop a nuttiness from the browning process. Then it simmers with vegetables and fragrant spices. Each grain absorbs flavors in the liquid and takes on an orange hue. You can turn a bland rice dish into an amazing one in a few easy steps.
Long grain white rice is best because the elongated shape yields light grains that stay separate after absorbing water. Extra-long grain and jasmine rice also work well. I recommend rinsing the rice to wash away any excess starches on the surface that could make the texture sticky. Then drain well!
Rinsing is a common practice that I do whenever cooking white rice. You can substitute with brown rice, but more water and time are needed when simmering. It takes longer to tenderize the outer bran than white rice, where it has already been removed. Follow the package directions as a cooking guide.
Toast the rice
To maximize the dish’s taste, I toast the rice before simmering. Cook the grains in olive oil over medium-high heat to lightly char the surface until golden brown. This process adds new nutty aromas that weren’t there before. The extra step takes about 5 minutes, but it’s a simple technique often used in Latin cuisine to boost the flavor.
Add flavorful seasonings
Toasting the rice is a good start, but layering in complex, flavorful ingredients that absorb into the grains makes it even better. Saute chopped onions and minced garlic in oil to soften the sulfurous sting and concentrate the onions’ natural sugars. When added, the hot oil also awakens the earthy flavors in the ground cumin.
Tomato paste adds the characteristic color and delivers extra glutamates for enhanced savory notes. I like to add chopped tomatoes for small bursts of sweet and acidic elements. Add peas and carrots if you’d like more nutritious vegetables.
Simmer the rice
Once the ingredients saute together, add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil. This extra heat gets the liquid very hot so that once you cover the pot and then lower the heat, it can gently soften the rice grains using the absorption method.
It takes about 20 minutes to soak up the water and cook the starch granules. To fully soften the grains, keep them covered for ten more minutes before opening the lid. Stirring at the end allows the residual heat from the steam to do its final cooking.
Serve this with
Both names are used synonymously, but there is a traditional difference. Spanish rice is typically more firm and uses saffron threads for it’s yellow hue. Mexican rice tends to have softer grains, with the addition of tomatoes for the arroz rojo (or red rice color), with earthy flavoring from cumin.
Yes! You can make cauliflower rice by chopping or grating the head into tiny pieces. To make grain-free rice, use 1 pound cauliflower or 8 cups of chopped pieces. Saute with the aromatics and a small amount of stock. Follow step-by-step instructions or check out my Mexican cauliflower rice recipe.
Toast the rice, and saute the onions and garlic first on the stovetop for the best flavor. Then all of the ingredients can be added and mixed in the rice cooker. Follow the manual instructions for cook time.
How to make Mexican rice without tomatoes
If you don’t have fresh or canned tomato paste on hand, caldo de tomato (Amazon) or chicken bouillon can instantly add color and salty flavor. It’s a coarse seasoning mix with a robust concentrated chicken and spice flavor with dried tomato powder. Use about 4 to 5 teaspoons for this recipe. Some products contain monosodium glutamate, so that you can omit the salt.
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- Prepare the Rice – Add the rice to a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cool running water until it runs clear, scrubbing the grains with your fingers several times, about 1 minute. Shake the colander and press to drain the excess water until dry.
- Saute the Aromatics – Heat a Dutch oven or medium saucepan over medium heat, and add olive oil. Once hot, add in the onion and saute until slightly translucent, 1 minute. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds.
- Saute the Rice – Add the rice and turn the heat to medium-high. Saute, frequently stirring, until the grains are lightly toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, so the rice does not burn.
- Add Flavorings – Turn the heat down to medium, add the cumin and salt, and saute for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, stir to combine, and cook for 30 seconds. Add in diced tomatoes and stir to combine.
- Simmer – Slowly pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and then reduce to a simmer over low heat. Cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
- Let it Sit – Turn off the heat, keep the cover on, and allow the rice to sit for 10 minutes to absorb all the water. Gently fluff with a fork—taste and season with more salt as desired. Garnish with cilantro leaves.
- Recipe Yield: 7 cups
- Serving Size: ½ cup
- Substituting with tomato sauce: Add ¼ cup of tomato sauce for the tomato paste. Reduce the chicken stock to 3 ¾ cups to account for the additional liquid.
- Using canned tomatoes: Canned diced tomatoes can be substituted for fresh. Make sure to drain the liquid before using it.
- Storing: Rice can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To freeze, portion into small resealable plastic bags for up to 1 month.
- Reheating: Reheat in the microwave on high power in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until warmed through. Defrost the rice first if frozen.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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