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13 Ideas For Your Leftover Rice To Improve Any Meal

Wondering what to do with leftover rice? There are a couple obvious choices—that are no less delicious for their ubiquity—but there are also plenty of other creative leftover rice recipe ideas you might never have thought of before.

Most of these work best with cooked long grain or medium grain rice. Short glutinous rice can be too sticky for certain applications, although everything is also a matter of personal taste, so feel free to try it out in any of these dishes (definitely use it in rice pudding). But for something particularly well suited to short grain rice, try this Sticky Rice Cake with Coconut, Ginger & Coconut Milk recipe, or this Coconut-Turmeric Sticky Rice Pancakes recipe.

Also worth noting, brown rice starts out chewier than white rice, so expect it to be more toothsome in its second incarnation too.

Wild rice (spoiler alert!) is not actually rice, but it can be used in most of the same ways; it just has an even firmer chew and nuttier flavor. It won't hold together so well in cakes or be the best choice for fried rice but can go in soups, stuffings, and pudding.

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Types of Rice

How to Reheat Leftover Rice

Reggie Wayne #87 of the Indianapolis Colts. (credit: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Even if your leftover rice is going into another cooked dish, it's a good idea to rewarm it first so the grains separate and will mix easily into other ingredients. There are a few ways to do this, but the two best are as follows:

  • Reheat it in a pot on the stovetop over low heat with a couple tablespoons of water or broth added and the lid on, stirring every few minutes until it's heated through and gently breaking up clumps as it warms.
  • Reheat it in the microwave after breaking up clumps with a fork; again, add a splash of water or other liquid and place a wet paper towel directly on the surface of the rice. Nuke on high until it's warm, which won't take long at all (check after a minute and then every 30 seconds or so).

The Best Leftover Rice Recipe Ideas

Try these when you want to transform your leftover rice into something more than just a side dish.

1. Fried Rice

The number one way to use leftover rice is probably also the easiest. Make fried rice a few times and you won't even need a recipe, but if you're not sure where to start, try these eight fried rice recipes. As the above anchovy and parmesan fried rice example shows, you can get as inventive with your add-ins as you like—or keep it classic with soy sauce and veggies.

2. Rice Pudding

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The other classic option for repurposing rice is pretty sweet, but also open to interpretation. To make rice pudding with leftover rice, just simmer the grains in your dairy (or oat milk or coconut milk) until they're creamy. Then mix in whatever extras you like; vanilla and cinnamon, maple syrup, raisins and almonds, fresh mango…it's hard to go wrong. Depending on how decadent you get (or don't), you can enjoy it for breakfast or dessert.

3. Stuffed Peppers

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Stuffed peppers will happily take almost anything you want to throw at them (or in them), and cooked rice is a perfect way to bulk them up. Adding moist ingredients to the filling, like cooked onions and/or meat, will help rehydrate the rice, but you can also add a splash of broth if it seems super dry before you stuff the peppers. No matter how you tweak the filling, do not forget the most important ingredient!

4. Arancini

While these are traditionally made with fresh arborio or Canaroli rice that's well chilled before rolling into balls and frying, there's no reason you can't make a version with leftover rice (any kind). Just reheat it with a little broth or water to help the grains loosen up, mix in the cheese, tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and proceed per our Arancini recipe instructions. You can also use your cooked rice in Cajun boudin balls.

Related Reading: A Beginner's Guide to Deep-Frying Like a Pro

5. Risotto Cakes

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If you actually have leftover risotto instead of plain rice, you can do the same thing with it—make ersatz arancini—or simply form it into flatter cakes and fry them up for supper. Dredge them in beaten egg and panko before they hit the pan to help them crisp up. Pair with a salad for a full meal, or make them smaller and serve with your protein of choice.

6. Chicken and Rice Soup or Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder

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Really, you can add leftover rice to any soup where you want it in the mix—just wait until everything else is ready to eat, and stir individual portions of your cooked, gently reheated rice into each bowl so it doesn't end up mushy (or clumpy). Don't forget jambalaya.

7. Veggie Burgers

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Cooked rice is a common component of homemade veggie burgers, so try making your own meatless patty for a change. Our Ultimate Veggie Burger recipe and our Black Bean Burger recipe are good places to start. They both use brown rice, but you can swap in white if that's what you have.

8. Meatloaf or Meatballs

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Similarly, cooked rice makes a fine binder for meatloaf or meatballs in place of the usual breadcrumbs. They'll lend a different texture (and, uh, potentially divisive appearance) to the finished dish, but you can use around 1/4 cup for every pound of meat in your recipe to help hold it together. Wild rice works here too.

9. Burritos or Burrito Bowls

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Booking photo of Dominique Arnett Tabb. (credit: Palo Alto Police Department)

Either of these options are particularly good with leftover Spanish rice or Arroz Verde, but if you just have plain white or brown rice, when you heat it up, stir a little hot sauce, taco seasoning, and/or fresh herbs into it before building your wraps or bowls. Depending on how you top them, they work for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Related Reading: More Cheap & Easy Meals

10. Leftover Rice Bake

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Mixing leftover rice with lots of delicious things and baking it just long enough to warm it through (and melt the cheese if you're using it, which you should!) is an easy dinner that can welcome other leftovers too, from roasted vegetables to leftover hamburger.

Try this One Skillet Mexican Rice Casserole recipe, or use this Grandma's Rice Dish recipe as a template depending on what you have, but make sure you add at least a cup of liquid to help hydrate the dish. The 12 ounces of enchilada sauce in the former recipe and the juice in the can of tomatoes in the latter are there for flavor too, but if you're building your own version of either dish and not using either of those ingredients, add a roughly equal amount of runny salsa, leftover gravy, or chicken or vegetable stock instead.

You can also fully embrace dairy (and simplicity) with this Cheesy Rice Bake recipe; add scallions for a little more bite.

11. Congee

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This incredibly comforting Chinese porridge (which is also enjoyed in other countries, including Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia) is usually made with raw rice that slowly breaks down into a creamy treat over the course of an hour or so. But this quick version has you blitz leftover cooked rice in a blender before simmering for about five minutes so the grains release their starch into the broth. Don't skimp on the garnishes; leftover chicken is a good one, but roasted peanuts and scallions add extra flavor and texture. Spice fiends will want chili oil on the side as well. Eat it for breakfast per tradition, or tuck in for an easy, cozy dinner.

12. Tuna and Rice Salad

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If you need a quick lunch and have both leftover rice and tuna in the pantry, you're in luck. Briny olives, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, and vinegar help keep leftover rice from seeming dry. Using a lush, oil-packed tuna also helps. But gently rewarm the rice before mixing everything together so it doesn't stay in clumps, and mix in the liquids first (not the water, though, which is just if you're cooking your rice for the dish!). Get our Tuna and Rice Salad recipe.

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Stocking Your Pantry

13. Idli

For the uninitiated, this Indian dish is like soft, fluffy, steamed pancakes made from ground rice (or other grains, like millet). Making them usually requires a 10-12 hour fermentation step, but using cooked rice is a great shortcut. Depending on your usual pantry staples, you may need to buy a few other special ingredients, but they're easy to get online or at an Indian grocery store. You can also make idli without molds in a microwave-safe bowl. Serve them with your favorite Indian chutney or condiment, or try them with maple syrup. Get the Leftover Rice Idli recipe.

Jen is an editor at Chowhound. Raised on scrapple and blue crabs, she hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation.
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