9 ways to transform day old riceShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Maya Chastain

Cooked too much rice yesterday? Have a carton of rice left in the fridge from a takeout order?

Once upon a time you may have opened the container and tossed the dried block of rice in the trash. Well, day-old rice is actually a gift from the food gods. There are so many dishes that are actually best when made with day-old rice.

So, no more tossing it in the trash. It’s time to get creative.

We’ve rounded up some easy and delicious ideas that will leave you inspired to turn your leftover rice into your new favorite staple dishes.

Fried rice takes the top spot on this list. For those of you who haven’t made homemade fried rice before, day-old rice is recommended for most recipes because refrigerated rice dries out, making fluffy but sturdy grains of rice.

You can use almost any kind of rice you’ve got in your fridge to make fried rice, but one of the most popular recommendations is to use a long-grain variety like jasmine.

The other thing we love about fried rice is that it can be made with a lot of what’s already in your fridge like a couple of eggs, fresh or frozen veggies, leftover meat (thinly sliced or shredded), and bottled sauces. If you’re not someone who typically keeps produce on hand, consider keeping a bag of frozen carrots and peas on hand in case you’re suddenly inspired to make fried rice.

As for sauces, we recommend classic flavors like fish sauce, sriracha, rice vinegar, and soy sauce (of course, teriyaki or generic “stir fry” sauce will also do in a pinch). Keep your fried rice gluten-free by using tamari or amino acids instead of soy sauce.

No dinner is complete without dessert. So, why not turn last night’s dinner into tonight’s dessert? Leftover rice isn’t going to waste in your fridge. It’s just waiting to be turned into a sweet bowl of rice pudding.

Rice pudding is the kind of dish that can be a little different each time you make it, simply because of how you decide to dress it up. So, get creative and really make it yours!

Dry, day-old rice is great at absorbing lots of flavor, especially when given a bit of time to really soak it all in. That’s where colorful bell peppers stuffed with rice, meat, beans, veggies, and topped with a layer of melted cheese come in.

Not only are they a great way to pack in all the important food groups with every bite (meat, dairy, carbs, and veggies), they’re also super easy to make. You can even make them vegan or vegetarian depending on your dietary needs.

Burritos with plain rice are nice, but burritos with flavored rice are even better. A little lemon, cilantro, and some drained canned beans go a long way in taking your lunchtime burrito to the next level.

Of course, you can dress your burrito up by adding leftover vegetables and meat, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple by wrapping a mixture of beans and rice in a tortilla. Dunk it into your favorite salsa, then get to eating!

Day-old rice is great for making brightly colored Spanish rice because of its ability to stay firm while still soaking up all sorts of additional flavors. If you have canned tomato sauce and onions and a handful of spices, you’ve already got everything you need.

It’s the perfect side for a simple marinated chicken cutlet or meaty vegetables like mushrooms, but it’s also great on its own.

For a lovely Mediterranean-inspired take on your day-old rice, try making dolmas, otherwise known as stuffed grape leaves. They’ve got a fresh, somewhat briny, herby taste, with bright lemony notes that pair really nicely with the chewy rice texture. Dolmas can be eaten as an appetizer or as a side dish.

Of course, you’ll need some grape leaves, which you should be able to find stored in jars at your local grocery store, usually in the “International” aisle. Thankfully, grape leaves last a considerably long time, so if stuffed grape leaves are something you’re interested in making, consider buying a jar.

If you love fried food, you’re definitely going to want to try making arancini. They’re Italian-inspired snacks that are basically fried rice balls — occasionally stuffed with meat and/or cheeses — coated in crispy bread crumbs. Arancini are great appetizers before dinner, but they’re best eaten freshly fried while they’re still hot.

If you’re not up for deep-frying, you can always flatten the rice mixture into patties and give them a quick pan-fry. Savory rice cakes are totally a thing!

When it comes to rich and savory rice dishes, rice pilaf is a classic. While the rice in a traditional Middle Eastern-inspired pilaf is usually cooked fresh, the whole point is to get it to take on a range of savory flavors by sautéing it with lots of aromatics before cooking it in a broth. This also helps get more defined rice grains in your finished pilaf.

But you know what else has nicely defined rice grains and is good at absorbing flavor? Day-old rice. So, go ahead — use your day-old rice to make a mushroom rice pilaf. You won’t regret it.

Curd rice is Indian-inspired chilled yogurt rice. It’s great for a quick breakfast. Curd rice is cooked with curry leaves and aromatic spices and is made from rice and unsweetened plain yogurt.

Of course, you can personalize it through the add-ins and toppings you decide to eat it with.

You see? The leftover rice sitting in your fridge is a great addition to a variety of entrees, appetizers, and even desserts. There are so many creative ways to dress up leftover rice that you might even find yourself cooking more rice for dinner, just so you’ll have a little extra for tomorrow!

Ena Ganguly graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Humanities Honors. Her work has been featured on Buzzfeed, BBC, and the Austin Chronicle.