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.

How to make fried rice

Fry your rice in hot oil until it takes on a bit of color, breaking up any lumps. Then add scallions, onions, and garlic with a bit of ground black pepper. Next, toss in any veggies and cooked meat.

To add the eggs, push the ingredients to one side of the pan, drizzle a little more oil into the empty spot, and scramble them until barely cooked. Then combine and add any sauces to taste.

Top it off with finely chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds if you’re feeling fancy.

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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!

How to make rice pudding

Cook your leftover rice on low with a splash of milk and a sweetener like honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar. Then add whatever strikes your fancy and stir (raisins, nuts, a dash of cinnamon, or even chocolate chips).

Ta-da! Sugar craving satisfied. Leftover rice, gone!

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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.

How to make stuffed bell peppers

Rehydrate yesterday’s rice by cooking it with a splash of chicken or vegetable stock and a few spices of your choice. We recommend cumin and chili powder, but you do you. Then stir in any vegetables and/or ground meat or crumbled sausage until warmed through.

Stuff the rice mixture into the open mouth of a bell pepper and top it off with a layer of cheese. Then bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350°F until the cheese is melted and browned.

No one will ever guess you made it from leftovers. You may even fool yourself!

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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!

How to make cilantro rice and beans

Mix day-old rice with drained pinto or black beans from a can. Heat in the microwave, then add a dash of cumin, salt, freshly cut cilantro, and a splash of lemon juice to taste.

Use a tortilla to wrap everything up along with any meat, cheese, or veggies you want, or keep it gluten-free and make a burrito bowl!

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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.

How to make Spanish rice

Sauté onions and garlic in oil until nice and brown. Add frozen or canned corn, black beans, or ground meat and cook through. Then stir in the day-old rice, making sure to coat it with the hot oil.

When the rice is uniform in color, stir in some tomato sauce and spices — go for classic Spanish-inspired flavors like cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne and mix until the rice is a deep red-orange color.

Serve with sliced avocados and finely chopped cilantro or parsley on top.

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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.

How to make dolmas

Cook sliced onions and garlic in oil until transparent or even golden, then transfer to a heat-resistant bowl and let cool. Add rice, lemon juice, a little mint and dill, and salt and mix well.

Spread grape leaves out one at a time and place a spoonful of rice filling near the bottom of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the rice filling, then fold in either side of the leaf and roll forward to seal the rice in.

Place each dolma, seam down, in a pot until you’re done folding. To cook, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, then cover with water. Place a heavy heat-resistant plate in the water on top of the dolmas to keep them from floating.

Cover the pot and cook on the stove for 15 to 20 minutes, just long enough for all the flavors to absorb into the filling. Garnish with lemon slices and enjoy with tzatziki sauce!

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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!

How to make arancini

Mix day-old rice with a shredded cheese of your choice and a raw egg. You may need to heat the rice with some water beforehand to make sure it’s nice and sticky (let the rice cool a bit before shaping so you don’t burn your hands). Form the rice into balls, stuffing it with cheese or meat if you want to.

To bread and fry, you’ll want to whisk a couple eggs together in one bowl (start with two eggs, but add more if needed) and pour breadcrumbs into another. Dip the rice balls first into the egg batter and then into the breadcrumbs to coat. Then fry in hot oil until golden brown and let them dry on paper towels.

Salt the arancini right after frying so the salt sticks, and serve with a marinara dipping sauce.

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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.

How to make rice pilaf

Cook onions and garlic in oil, along with any additional seasonings like sage, marjoram, or rosemary. Sauté until the onions and garlic are golden brown, then add your mushrooms (or meat or eggplant if you don’t do mushrooms). Cook down, depending on how soft or hard you like your mushrooms.

Stir in the rice and a splash of stock for extra flavor. If you decide to not add stock, substitute with a splash of water to ensure the rice is soft and fluffy. Salt and pepper to taste.

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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.

How to make curd rice

Curd rice works best with soft rice. So, microwave your day-old rice with a bit of water and give it a fluff with a fork before you begin.

Toast spices (we recommend cumin seeds, curry leaves, and mustard seeds) in oil to warm them up and release their flavors. For a bit of a kick, add chopped green chilies or grated ginger and cook until quite fragrant, then remove from heat.

In another bowl, combine fluffed rice with cold yogurt and veggies, like cucumbers and carrots, for some added crunch. Then stir in the spices and serve with a side of aachar, or spiced pickle.

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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.