12 Ways to Upgrade Instant Rice in Minutes

Rice with compound butter sounds divine.



Instant rice gets kind of a blah reputation, but it’s the ultimate pantry ingredient when you’re trying to create a nutritious, flavorful meal that doesn’t take all day to prep. Luckily, instant rice is super versatile, so whether you’re interested in making a whole dish with a packet of rice, or just a side to spruce up some leftovers, your go-to instant rice can undergo an instant upgrade for maximum meal enjoyment. Here’s where to start.

Stir in fresh herbs

One of the easiest ways to upgrade any dish is to add in fresh herbs. Chop up some leafy herbs like parsley, basil, mint, or whatever suits your flavor palette, and stir them in just before serving the rice. You can also use the same herbs as a garnish, or toast them in butter to drizzle over your ready-to-serve bowl of instant rice. 

Garnish with a crunch

Add some texture to your instant rice by garnishing it with a crunchy element. Consider sesame seeds, crushed nuts (such as walnuts or pecans) or even some fresh pomegranate seeds to add a nice pop and textural twist to quick-cooking rice. If you’re feeling ambitious, try frying chickpeas until crispy for a savory, protein-rich, crunchy rice addition. 

Cook instant rice in broth

Up the flavor of your pot of instant rice by swapping out water for full-flavored broth. Use bone broth or stock in the same proportion, or quickly mix some miso with water for a nice umami-base that will infuse your instant rice. Bouillon works too! Alternatively, you can also add instant rice cooked in water to soup to add some more texture to any bisque or soup, like chicken with vegetables and rice.

Top with butter

Stirring a pat of butter into rice as it finishes cooking adds a wonderful glossiness and richness that really amps up any type of rice, even instant. Use compound butter, or butter with herbs or flavorings in it, to add that extra oomph to the simple grain dish. 

Turn it into fried rice

Use freshly made or leftover instant rice to create a fantastic fried rice dish in minutes. Try this spring fried rice for a veggie-forward take, or just create your own version using whatever veggies or meat you have in the fridge or freezer. If you’re low on ingredients, just add an egg! 

Whip up a quick rice pudding

No dessert in the house? No problem. Create your own rice pudding with some instant rice cooked in milk or non-dairy milk (like coconut, for extra richness), some sweetener, like sugar or agave syrup, and even a topping of fresh fruit, nuts, or brown sugar. Make your instant rice pudding even more special by stirring in some cocoa powder for a chocolate treat! 

Sprinkle in some cheese

Instant rice isn’t going to become risotto, but stirring in some shredded cheese at the end of the cook will make it cheesy, gooey, and super delicious. Go for something like grated Parmesan for an Italian riff, or even spoon in a chunk of Velveeta for a mac and cheese rival that pairs with your favorite main course.  

Serve a rice salad

Mixing rice with greens and veggies makes for an excellent salad that’s both satisfying and healthy. Try this herby rice salad recipe with pistachios, arugula, and lemon dressing for an excellent lunch or side dish.

Add frozen veggies

Have some edamame, peas, lima beans, or broccoli florets in the freezer? Add a serving of frozen vegetables to your instant rice just as it finishes cooking. This will defrost the green veggies in an instant, and add a colorful and vitamin-rich boost to the dish. Frozen leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, also work with this method. 

Create a pilaf 

Make your instant rice a little more sophisticated by creating a pilaf with it. For a simple rice pilaf, fold in dried cranberries, toasted nuts, and some roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions, leeks, or fennel to create depth of flavor. The result is a super nice pilaf to enjoy with roasted meat or veggies. 

Make red rice

Full of flavor and a hint of spice, red rice is a beautifully hued side dish that can be made with instant rice, tomato sauce, and chili peppers. It all comes together with pantry ingredients, and can be garnished with fresh greens for a gourmet flair. 

Add a can of beans

Pre-cooked beans can do wonders to any meal, and they work so well with instant rice. Go for a drained can of kidney beans, plus Cajun seasoning, for a Creole twist on beans and rice, or stir in white beans or black beans for alternative flavor profiles.

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