How to Transform Leftover Rice into Delicious Mediterranean and Asian Meals

Whenever Ric and I cook up plain rice to serve with stir-fries, stews and curries we always make at least a double batch, and freeze the leftovers in two-person portions in airtight containers. This way, the next time we have a stir-fry, stew or curry and want rice as an accompaniment all we have to do is microwave a portion for a few minutes and it’s beautifully hot with separate, fluffy grains.

But there are lots of other tasty ways we use cooked rice. So whether you specially cook some rice in bulk and freeze it in advance, or simply use leftover rice from last night’s dinner, here’s a collection of fast and easy Mediterranean and Asian dishes made with pre-cooked rice (…and if you’d like to cook up perfect plain rice in the first place, here’s our recipe).

  • Countless variations of Asian fried rice dishes can be prepared with amazing ease and speed using pre-cooked rice. Cold cooked long-grain rice is ideal for making fried rice as the grains remain separate during the stir-frying process. The flavor and fragrance of the seasonings and other ingredients permeate the rice while it’s being stir-fried, turning the simplest peasant foods into a limitless array of appetizing fried rice dishes. Here are a few of our favorites: Vietnamese fried rice; Thai crab & cashew fried rice; Shrimp fried rice; and Indonesian shrimp fried rice.
  • Vegetables stuffed with rice, herbs, dried fruit and nuts are a popular feature of Greek cuisine and Rice-Stuffed Bell Peppers are a delicious example of this type of hearty, simple food. Cut 2 large peppers (red, green, yellow or orange) in half through the stems and arrange the halves cavity-side up in a small baking dish. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and cook ½ finely diced onion for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next add 2 tablespoons pine nuts and 2 cloves finely chopped garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Then add 2 diced tomatoes (or ¼ cup tomato passata), 2 tablespoon currants or raisins, ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and cook for a minute. Add 2 cups cooked long-grain rice, and 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped parsley and mint and stir well to combine. Fill the pepper cavities with equal amounts of the rice mixture, crumble 2 oz (60g) feta over the top, and drizzle evenly with an extra tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the peppers are just tender (cooking time depends on the size and thickness of the peppers – don’t overcook or they’ll collapse). Serve warm or cold with salad.
  • Indian pilaus and kedgerees can be made using pre-cooked basmati rice as a short-cut. For a fast Indian Kedgeree, heat 2 teaspoons each of butter and canola or peanut oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook 1 finely chopped onion and 1 finely chopped carrot for around 10 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and 3 teaspoons curry powder and cook, stirring, for a minute. Stir in 3 cups cold cooked basmati rice with 1 teaspoon each brown sugar and salt and mix well to combine and coat the grains. Add 1/3 cup cooked green peas, 7 oz (210g) canned Alaskan red salmon (drained, bones removed and broken into chunks), 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) and mix together gently to combine the ingredients and heat through. Serve the kedgeree on plates with 1 quartered hard-boiled egg on top of each. (You can use canned mackerel or tuna in place of the salmon, or replace it with canned chickpeas or lentils.)
  • Use pre-cooked basmati rice to make a quick version of a Middle Eastern pilaf. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in large frying pan over a medium heat. Cook 1 each finely chopped onion, red pepper and carrot for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground black pepper and salt and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add 1 cup canned chickpeas, ½ cup cooked green peas, and 3 cups cold cooked basmati rice and stir to coat thoroughly in the spice mixture and heat through. Stir through 1 extra tablespoon olive oil, and 2 tablespoons each of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped dried apricots, and chopped pistachio nuts. You can replace the apricots with raisins or currants, use pine nuts or almonds instead of pistachio nuts, use dill rather than parsley, and use cooked lentils or fava beans instead of chickpeas. Eat this pilaf as a meal on its own, or serve it as a bed under grilled chicken, seafood, lamb or veggie skewers.
  • Use cold cooked plain long-grain rice as the foundation for this Simple rice salad, which is just right for lunch or a light dinner served with poached fish or chicken. Mix 2 cups cold cooked plain long-grain rice with 1 grated carrot, 1 diced roasted red pepper, 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, 2 diced tomatoes, 2 thinly sliced fresh mushrooms, and 6 chopped pitted black olives. For the dressing, mix together ½ clove minced garlic, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Toss the dressing with the rice salad until thoroughly combined. Or try some of our other rice salad recipes on the site: Tuna lentil rice salad; Insalata di riso (Italian rice salad); Cantonese rice salad.
  • Use leftover rice to make congee, a savory rice porridge from China, where it’s usually eaten for breakfast, but also at other times of the day (we also have it for lunch or a light dinner.) Congee is normally made by cooking long-grain rice for around 40 minutes until the rice is really soft. By using pre-cooked rice to make congee, you cut the cooking time down to 25 minutes to reach the same creamy consistency. This Chicken and Egg Congee is kind of like a creamy Asian risotto, laden with chicken and mushrooms, with an egg added towards the end of cooking. Bring 2 cups of chicken stock and 1½ cups of water to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add 3 cups of pre-cooked long-grain rice, 8 ounces (240g) uncooked chicken breast fillets (cut into bite-sized pieces), 2 teaspoons finely grated ginger, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 thinly sliced scallions, and ½ cup thinly sliced mushrooms. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the congee cooks, mix together 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper in a bowl. Stir the sauce mixture and 1 beaten egg through the hot rice and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, stir through 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro and serve in bowls. You can use shrimp, tofu or tuna instead of chicken.
  • Next time you make a lasagna, use thin layers of cooked rice instead of lasagna sheets. The contrasting flavors and textures make it a wonderfully satisfying dish.
  • Add cooked rice to soups to make them more substantial. Instead of adding pasta to minestrone, for instance, throw in some cooked rice at the end. Rice is good convalescent food – simple, soft and easy to eat – and makes a hearty addition to a nourishing chicken soup. Make our recipe for Chicken & corn soup but replace the rice noodles with cooked long-grain rice, added towards the end to warm through.