With a just a handful of pantry-friendly ingredients, you’ll be on your way to cooking this seriously delicious and easy Mexican rice recipe (arroz rojo) in no time at all.
What is Mexican Rice?
To be completely honest, I don’t know where the term “Mexican rice” comes from. My guess is it’s a North American label that refers to rice cooked with sautéed onion, garlic, peppers, herbs, spices, some type of tomato sauce and chicken stock, which is commonly served as a side dish throughout Mexico. As far as I know, people in Mexico don’t refer to this as “Mexican rice”. They more likely refer to it as “arroz rojo”, in reference to its beautiful red colour, and peas are often added to the rice. Essentially, it is a very delicious version of rice pilaf.
For sake of simplicity (and SEO purposes), I’ll hesitantly refer to it as Mexican rice here. Just know that when I’m typing Mexican rice, I’m actually thinking arroz rojo.
Though I don’t cook it often, I’ve been making versions this easy Mexican rice recipe for years. Every time I make a batch, the flavours change a bit depending on what I have on hand and, truth be told, that’s how I like it. I tend to think of it less as a firm recipe and more as a guideline for making really easy and flavourful rice to accompany some of my favourite dishes. I’m talking Beef Barbacoa, grilled meats, fried eggs, roasted veggies, or even Huevos Rancheros.
In this version, I went a bit of spicy route, adding some chopped jalapeño. It’s not necessary and can certainly be omitted, but I already had one in the fridge and needed to use it before it went bad.
Is this Easy Mexican Rice Paleo or Whole30?
As you likely know, rice is neither Paleo nor Whole30 compliant. However, depending on the person, it could very well be a welcome addition to your Food Freedom when enjoyed in moderation. Personally, I don’t handle rice all that well, which is why I consume it infrequently. For the most part, I just really, really love rice and have a hard time controlling my portions when it’s in front of me. I can easily devour an entire pot of this easy Mexican rice. Shortly thereafter, I’ll notice a dip in my energy levels. I’ll want to take a nap, and then, all of a sudden, I’ll be super hungry again. Though I haven’t tested my insulin and blood sugar levels after eating rice, I’d be willing to wager that there is a significant curve. So, when I do cook rice, I’m extra mindful about how I’m consuming it.
I’m sharing this easy Mexican rice recipe because it was a highly requested item when I first shared a glimpse of it while I was in Miami back in March. It was shortly after COVID-19 cases started to appear on North American soil and people were starting to hunker down at home. Like many others, I made a trip to the grocery store with the goal of buying just enough provisions to last us for a two-week self-isolation. Of course, I had no idea that those plans would quickly change and that I would have to drive back from Miami to Toronto a few days later. In any case, part of that first grocery store trip included buying a small bag of long grain rice and I made this easy Mexican rice recipe with it.
Can You Make Easy Mexican Rice with Cauliflower?
Definitely! The liquid levels will be entirely different since the cauliflower won’t be able to absorb as much as rice, but, for the most part, things would stay the same. I’ll need to provide a separate detailed recipe for it so give me some time and I’ll report back.
What You Need for this Easy Mexican Rice Recipe
Depending on where you go in Mexico, different types of rice are used. In this recipe, both long-grain and medium-grain rice can be used interchangeably. Though they wouldn’t be considered “traditional” or “authentic”, you can substitute whatever type of rice you have. Jasmine, basmati, sushi rice, Arborio, Bomba, etc. Use what you have so that you don’t need to make an unnecessary trip to the store.
Onion, red bell peppers and garlic add sweetness and a lot of flavour to the rice. You can get away with just onions and garlic if you don’t have bell peppers. For heat, I like to add chopped jalapeño or serrano, but this can also be omitted for a mild version of the rice. These are certainly the more common aromatics, but I think you can play around with the type of bell pepper you use. You can substitute green, yellow, orange, cubanelles, or shepherd peppers. You can also use roasted poblanos that have had their skins peeled.
Herbs and Spices
I keep things simple in this easy Mexican rice because, well, I wanted it to be easy and accessible. Ground cumin and dried oregano are just the tip of the iceberg. You can try adding ground coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, or chili powder. Each herb and spice will bring a different flavour profile, which may not be a bad thing.
Tomato is predominantly what gives this Mexican rice its beautiful red colour. You can use just about any tomato product to make this rice, including fresh. Personally, I like to use tomato paste because I think it’s easier to figure out how much liquid I’ll need to cook the rice (ideally aiming for 1 part rice to 1.5 parts water here). It’s also more affordable and easier to keep on hand than bigger cans of crushed or chopped tomatoes. Plus, you need less of it to make a pot of rice.
If you use crushed tomatoes or even tomato salsa, you’ll have to account for how much liquid you’re using and adjust your stock or water levels accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a very mushy finished product.
Stock or Water
Using chicken or vegetable stock to cook the rice will deliver a much more flavourful and delicious finished product. However, this easy Mexican rice can also be made with water if you’re in a pinch. Just be sure to season it with an appropriate amount of salt to bring out all those wonderful flavours.
Sauté Pan with Tight-Fitting Lid
Any pot will work here, but I prefer making this rice in a sauté pan (Made In cookware makes a great stainless steel one). The wider surface area allows for the aromatics to cook more quickly and evenly and the rice tends to clump less because it is more spaced out. In a narrower sauce pan, for example, more of the rice is forced and compressed into the middle where it steams and has a tendency to get mushy as it cooks.
Whichever pot you use, it’s important to have a tight-fitting lid so that the steam doesn’t evaporate, which will result in a dry and uncooked finished product. Ideally, the lid will be made of glass so that you can see what’s happening in the pot as it cooks without lifting the lid!
If, for whatever reason, you don’t have a pot with a matching lid, tightly wrap the pot with two layers of tin foil to trap moisture as the rice cooks.
Easy Mexican Rice Recipe (arroz rojo)
- 1 small yellow onion – finely chopped
- ½ medium red bell pepper – finely chopped
- 1 medium jalapeño – seeded cored and finely chopped (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic – finely chopped
- 2 cups long grain white rice rinsed well and drained
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt plus extra to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups chicken stock vegetable stock or water
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Preheat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper and jalapeno and season with salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions are soft and translucent, around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 60 seconds. Add the cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, 60 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring to coat, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the rice, stir to coat, and cook, stirring regularly, so that the rice toasts a bit for 3 to 4 minutes. The toasting process will impart some flavour in the rice and also dry out some excess moisture absorbed during the rinsing process.
- Add the stock or water and use a wooden spoon or spatula to lift any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a steady simmer. Give the rice one last stir to prevent any grains from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, ten minutes.
- Fluff the rice with a fork, add the cilantro and stir through. Serve immediately.