Ah, rice. A hardworking yet humble grain, often overlooked as a beautiful thing in its own right and valued most as a supporting player—and it is great at propping up other dishes.
There are more than 40,000 types of rice cultivated in the world (from arborio to carnaroli, sticky to sushi, black to brown, and white to wild (which is actually a type of grass)), but today, let’s look at two of the most common and beguiling examples: jasmine and basmati rice.
Jasmine rice hails from Thailand, while basmati comes from India and Pakistan. They are both of the long grain variety, which means they cook up fluffy and not very sticky, so their grains remain distinct, although jasmine is plumper, softer, and a bit more moist than basmati, which has a firmer chew and drier character.
Basmati grains are extra long and thin, and many sources say they benefit from soaking, whereas the shorter, wider grains of jasmine rice just need a few quick rinses to remove excess starch (and you can even skip this step if you are really lazy don’t mind a bit more stickiness).
Both basmati and jasmine rice are especially aromatic, sharing the 2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline compound that gives them both a pandan-like or popcorn-esque aroma, but basmati has a nuttier quality, while jasmine rice is more faintly floral.
Nutrition-wise, they’re both low in fat and will give you a little protein boost, but basmati has a much lower glycemic index (59 to jasmine’s 89), making it a better choice for diabetics. They’re most commonly sold after the germ and bran have been removed (i.e. in their white form), but you can find brown basmati and brown jasmine rice, which will require slightly different cooking methods and give you more nutrients and fiber. (If your low-carb diet won’t allow any rice, condolences, but this is a tasty alternative.)
To highlight the specific character of each grain, you might showcase basmati in a pilaf or salad and jasmine in a pudding, but they are both well suited to underpinning rich, saucy dishes like curries, and you can often use either variety you prefer, depending on whether you want something firmer and drier (that’d be basmati) or a softer and slightly more luscious base (hey, jasmine).
While basmati rice is usually boiled and jasmine is best steamed, if you have a rice cooker, it can handle either kind. If you use it for basmati, after soaking it for 30 minutes (or at least rinsing off the starch if you really can’t wait that long), you will need to add slightly less water than your cooker’s instructions indicate, and it can help to add a little bit of butter, ghee, or oil to keep the grains well separated. You can also add aromatics like saffron, cinnamon, or bay leaves to further perfume and color your rice. When it’s done, let it sit for about 15 minutes before taking the lid off and fluffing your basmati with a fork. For jasmine rice, after rinsing it until the water is no longer cloudy, your rice cooker’s standard instructions should suffice.
If you can’t bear yet another kitchen gadget, or if you just prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, this site has basic recipes for cooking perfect plain jasmine and basmati rice on the stove top.
Try a bit of each kind on its own—enjoy the nuances in their aromas, tastes, and textures for what they are alone—and then try some of these delicious dishes, featuring jasmine and basmati rice.
Nasi lemak is a great way to showcase fragrant rice, made even more aromatic (and creamy) with coconut milk. It’s a star on its own, but really wows in concert with all the accompaniments: spicy chile sauce, tender hard boiled eggs, crunchy peanuts and fried anchovies, and crisp fresh cucumber. (The recipe calls for basmati, but this would definitely be just as delicious with jasmine rice.) Get the Nasi Lemak with Sambal recipe—or see this Easy Nasi Lemak recipe for when there’s no time to make your own sambal.
As beautiful as it is tasty, this spice-scented golden rice is studded with gem-like dried fruits, fresh pomegranate seeds, and pistachios. So as not to overwhelm or detract from this treasure box of a dish, serve with something simple, like grilled chicken, baked fish, or roasted cauliflower. Get the recipe.
A classic Indian rice dish, biryani is rich and heady with spices. This version simplifies the traditional process a bit, but the results are stunning. The caramelized onions and tender chicken amid all that luxurious rice need nothing else except maybe a cooling, complementary raita or bright chutney. (For sauce lovers, chicken tikka masala is another great Indian option that is perfect layered over plain basmati.) Get the recipe.
It’s kind of amazing how much flavor and texture you can pack into a single bowl. This bibimbap may not be a strictly traditional Korean version, but it is delicious, filling, and pleasantly cheap. Steaming hot rice is topped with a little chile-garlic ground beef and a lot of fresh vegetables, then crowned with kimchi and runny-yolked eggs. You can easily make this your own by adding, subtracting, and substituting various ingredients and components. (And for a similar dish that goes in a Hawaiian direction, get our Tuna Poke recipe.) Get the recipe.
Basically a Vietnamese version of jook, this creamy ginger-scented jasmine rice porridge is warm and filling, and seems fundamentally homey no matter where you’re from. Poached chicken amplifies the velvety texture, while fresh herbs and crunchy roasted peanuts and fried shallots provide compelling contrast. Try it once and you’ll be a Cháo-hound for good. Get our Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge recipe.
One of the most common and best things to do with jasmine rice is pour a spicy, luscious curry over top. This veggie version is perfumed with lemongrass, garlic, and ginger, beautifully creamy with coconut milk, and chock full of tender eggplant. Omit the fish sauce to make it vegan (or try one of these vegan fish sauce substitutes). Get our Eggplant Curry with Lemongrass recipe.
This ingenious recipe also starts with a creamy curry (green, with tofu), then transforms the leftovers into crispy jasmine rice balls akin to arancini. Flecked with fresh Thai basil, these are best texturally when fried, but there’s an oven-baked variation given too. Get the recipe.
Although jasmine and basmati rice are most often associated with Asian and Indian dishes, don’t limit yourself to those cuisines or you’ll miss out on showstoppers like these Cuban bowls. The fluffy jasmine rice is boosted by cilantro and lime juice, and is the perfect partner to succulent pork (seasoned with cumin, chile powder, garlic, oregano, and orange), hearty black beans, and sweet caramelized plantains. Get the recipe.
A thematically similar option as above, but vegetarian (and they use basmati rice), these stuffed poblano peppers are hearty enough to serve as a main meal. Full of bright and earthy Mexican flavors, these are almost sort of like super-fancy burritos, plus they’re easy to cook, even for a crowd. Get our Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Black Beans and Cheese recipe.
Not only is this fried rice way healthier than what you’d get from a Chinese take-out place, it’s barely any harder than ordering out. You dump everything—including the uncooked jasmine rice—in the crock pot, and simply stir every now and then to ensure even cooking. Feel free to add some diced red-cooked pork or even bacon at the end if you like yours with a little meat. Get our Slow Cooker Fried Rice recipe.
To cap things off, of course there’s dessert! This spin on classic rice pudding is just as creamy and comforting, but a little more special with the addition of coconut milk, ginger, cardamom, and orange zest. This is another case where jasmine or basmati would be equally appropriate. Top with toasted coconut, and diced mango wouldn’t be amiss. Get our Coconut Rice Pudding recipe.