This hardworking pantry staple isn’t just an easy side dish—it can be the impetus for an incredible dinner.

By Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
Updated August 12, 2020
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Instant Rice isn’t exactly glamorous, but it is a heavy lifter when it comes to getting dinner on the table quickly. My favorite instant rice varieties come par-cooked in a microwave-safe bag, so all you have to do is rip open the bag and stick it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. But there’s a big difference between a bag of rice and a satisfying meal, so here are a few ideas to help you turn that bag of rice into a delicious dinner.

Greek Stuffed Peppers
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Stuffed Peppers

A classic for a reason. Slice two bell peppers in half and cut out the core. Mix the warmed rice with whatever you have on hand—a little beans and shredded chicken for a Tex-Mex vibe, some herbs and white beans for something a little more Mediterranean—and fill your hollowed out peppers. I like to top mine with a hefty sprinkle of cheese—cheddar, feta, and goat cheese are all good options—and then bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the peppers are tender and the cheese is nice and melty.

Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries and Pecans
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Styling: Gerri Williams for James Reps

Wild Rice Salad

Wild rice can take upwards of an hour to cook, which is why it’s my go-to style of instant rice to keep on hand. It has a satisfying, chewy texture that stands up really well in salads, so that’s my favorite way to use it. Start with a simple dressing and a base green (I love kale or arugula) and then add whatever toppings you might have kicking around your fridge or pantry.

Basil Fried Rice
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of my go-to dinners, mostly because it’s a one-pan option that comes together quickly. But it does rely on keeping leftover rice in the house, which sometimes isn’t happening when the craving strikes. In a pinch, instant rice can easily do the job. Simply cook the rice, then add it to a skillet with a little sesame oil, a handful of scallions and maybe an egg. Anything else is extra credit.

mr - Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole Image
Credit: Antonis Achilles; Food Styling: Ana Kelly; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee

Rice Casserole

If you’ve got a little bit of ground meat (or shredded chicken) and a few handfuls of vegetables (frozen will work fine, just defrost and drain them first), stir them together with your “prepared” rice, then transfer to a baking dish and top with a little cheddar cheese. Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until the top gets golden brown and a little crispy. (Pro tip: this is also delicious for breakfast with a quick fried egg!)

mr - Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice Image
Credit: Melissa Gray

Melissa Gray

Rice and Beans

Rice and beans is a staple meal in many cultures—and for good reason. It’s affordable, nutritious, and easy to make. For something a little more special, cook half a chopped onion in a little olive oil until tender and translucent, then add half a teaspoon each of chili flake and cumin powder. Stir that around and then add a can of beans (undrained!) Let those beans simmer gently for about 5 minutes, then serve over rice (with salsa, cheese and guacamole, of course!)