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. Luckily, the 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 full-flavored rice recipes on the side—they’ll do anything but fade into the background.
1. Spanish Rice
This tomato and garlic flavored rice has what it takes to balance out robust dishes like refried beans or heavily-spiced meats. Get our Spanish Rice recipe.
2. Spicy Green Rice (Arroz Verde)
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. Get our Spicy Green Rice (Arroz Verde) recipe.
3. Coconut Rice
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. Get the recipe here.
4. Indian Lemon Rice
Lemon and cumin add just enough tartness and spice to rice to make it really pop. They don’t take it too over the top, however—these grains are tame enough to serve along with other fragrant and vibrant south Indian dishes. Get the recipe here.
5. Iranian Jeweled Rice
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. Get the recipe here.
6. Nasi Ulam (Malaysian Herbed Rice)
On the page, nasi ulam doesn’t seem like it should work—the amount of herbs and aromatics it calls for is borderline extravagant. Yet on the plate it sings with freshness, drawing attention to the nuances between mint, basil, and more. Get the recipe here.
7. Uyghur Lamb Pilaf
Lamb is incredibly rich and flavorful, and this pilaf takes full advantage of that fact. The rice simmers amidst chunks of meat and bone, along with carrot, onion, and spices. Get the recipe here.
8. Ginger and Turmeric Aromatic Rice
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 in dried cranberries, pine nuts, and cilantro to mix it up. Get the recipe here.
9. Jamaican Style Rice and Peas
Jamaican-style rice and peas doesn’t play around. With fiercely hot Scotch bonnet peppers as well as coconut, thyme, and garlic, it has a heat that makes you sit up straight and take notice. Get the recipe here.
10. Arroz con Gandules (Rice and Pigeon Peas)
Puerto Rican arroz con gandules starts off with pork belly drippings and a pepper and herb sofrito before the rice even hits the pan, laying the foundations for an incredibly savory dish. Get the recipe here.
11. Kimchi and Shrimp Fried Rice
Whether you make this your main or part of a multi-course meal, the sour and spicy tang of kimchi turns rice into something that is full of over-the-top character and funk. Get our Kimchi and Shrimp Fried Rice recipe.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.