To say that rice is a staple is to underplay its massive presence in world cuisines. From Asia to Africa and beyond, those gemlike, sweet, and fragrant grains are critical to more than half of the world’s population. Rice is a stalwart ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, Latin American dishes, Caribbean classics, and Deep South comfort meals. It’s iconic, versatile, delicious and—especially as we face inflation and a recession—an economical choice.
Drawing on inspiration from around the world, particularly where rice is revered, here are 14 easy and delicious ways to make these mighty little grains work hard for your money.
01 of 14
When people think of rice, it’s not uncommon to think of delicious, crispy, savory fried rice. This Chinese quick-serve style is a flexible base for making any kind of soy sauce-flavored fried rice. It uses only two cups of cooked chicken to serve up to six people—a great use of leftover chicken or any other meat you may have around. For example, it’s not uncommon for Asian and Hawaiian households to just chop up some Spam for fried rice. Eggs and frozen vegetables, plus refreshing bean sprouts, fill in the blanks, but you can riff off it with any other stray or straggling veggies, such as volume-adding broccoli.
02 of 14
The Chinese are far from the only Asian culture to stretch scraps with fried rice. This Korean version relies on gut-friendly fermented kimchi for a big boost of flavor, bold color, and to bulk up the dish. A mere four ounces of sliced beef is all that’s required to give it a meaty boost, and a fried egg per serving brings up the protein count. In one dish, you’ll have spicy, savory, acidic, and satisfying.
03 of 14
Ham is a common favorite to marry with rice, and this recipe inspired by South Carolina—where rice was traditionally grown—pulls out all the savory, porky flavor of their most popular meat and makes it even better with bacon. A few strips is all you need, while a can of diced tomatoes and their juices do the heavy lifting to make this rice dish distinctive
04 of 14
Red beans and rice is a working-class Monday tradition in Louisiana that took advantage of leftover ham from Sunday dinner simmering with beans for hours on the back burner while Monday’s laundry was attended to. This recipe frees you up in the same way except in this case your slow cooker does all the work of the main course. All you need to do near the end of those eight hours is just steam up some plain rice.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14
If you’re looking for that same kind of deep, slow-cooked flavor but whipped up faster, an Instant Pot pressure cooker might just be your best friend. This recipe lets you make a from-scratch hearty soup in less than an hour. You cook the raw rice in with the soup, saving you another step to do and another dish to wash. Budget vegetables like celery and carrots, plus the use of only two chicken breasts, carries your dollars far with a yield of six servings. Cook more rice on the side to make it extra chunky; choose brown rice for more filling fiber and texture.
06 of 14
Chicken and rice is a classic combination, and this recipe relies on economical convenience products like condensed soup to give you a dish that tastes far richer than your spend. Juicy dark meat or bone-in breasts are typically budget cuts of chicken, especially if you buy untrimmed legs in bulk bags, which are often sold for less than a dollar a pound. The rice cooks with the chicken in the oven, absorbing its juices for plenty of flavor without any of the fuss.
07 of 14
Pork also benefits from a condensed soup treatment, and the other white meat goes further when chopped up and mixed in with cooked rice. The recipe calls for pork loin, but inexpensive country ribs can also do the trick, adding a little more satisfying fat besides. If you happen to have pork chops on hand, you can use those as well. Celery and onions form the vegetable base, but feel free to add carrots or cauliflower for more nutrition. You can also increase the rice by half a cup for a bigger yield.
08 of 14
Tex-Mex is a surefire way to make rice irresistible, and this vegetarian-friendly recipe is no exception. Rice and beans are one of the food world’s happiest, thriftiest couples, and they keep things hot with chili powder and hot sauce as well as attitudes fresh with zippy lime and cilantro. Wrapping the whole dish in a big tortilla does more than make it conveniently handheld—it also makes it more filling. For more meatless protein, use Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream; for variations, scroll down on the recipe page for enough ideas for every day of the week.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14
Who says rice and beans are reserved for lunch and dinner alone? Start your day with a power bowl. Putting eggs on rice and simply seasoned beans then topping it with a sprinkle of cheese and green salsa is economical, filling, and absolutely delicious. Red salsa or pico de gallo would do just fine, too, if that’s what you have on hand. Either will seep beautifully into the rice with a perfectly runny yolk.
10 of 14
Another popular way to have rice in the morning is as congee—it’s how millions of Chinese, Burmese, Indonesian, and Japanese people opt to break their fast. Imagine a soupy, savory version of oatmeal, vaguely sweet with natural rice water or mildly savory with stock. This foundational recipe sets the stage for custom add-ins, such as shredded meats, minced aromatics like ginger, and soft-boiled eggs. Another common way to enjoy it is as a palate cleanser between little bites of mixed dishes laid out family style.
11 of 14
Another long-simmering rice recipe, this classic Italian dish is made much more affordable with this hack that subs in cheaper long-grain rice for costlier arborio, the traditional risotto varietal. A mere two cups and four boneless breasts offers an elegant six to eight servings, and plenty of broth makes a cup of shredded cheese go far as it melts across the grains.
12 of 14
Peppers are even more fantastic for stuffing, and equally cute and tidy-looking. They’re also easy to make in batches for convenient heat-and-eat lunches and dinners. For a variation, this rice-stuffed pepper spin trades pricier beef for chopped cooked chicken, and adds creaminess with mayonnaise and curry for an unexpected pop.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14
Onigiri is another filling rice recipe in a neat little package. This Japanese dish takes only five minutes to prep and gets you a dozen seasoned meat and rice balls with a mere half pound of dark-meat chicken. You can form them into whatever shape you like and surround them with nori—seaweed sheets—for wrapped onigiri. Eat them warm and fresh, or chill them and let them firm up for a convenient, satisfying meal base or snack
14 of 14
When your sweet tooth strikes, return to rice. Two eggs, milk, and sugar turn a cup of leftover grains into a cinnamon- and vanilla-scented treat in just 50 minutes. You can easily make this dessert dairy free, too, by using substitutes such as soy or almond milk.