A staple ingredient in almost every cuisine is the ever delicious and ever satisfying rice. Here is a collection of the BEST middle eastern rice dishes! All of these are tested to perfection and guaranteed to succeed in your kitchen. From easy weeknight recipes, to sides, and to main dishes where rice is the star; you'll enjoy the authentic taste of rice from the middle east!
Rice is a central ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, and almost always served on the dinner (or lunch) table alongside any other dish. Rice is a very humble and versatile grain, and it comes in many varieties and can be cooked in so many different ways.
Now here's my fun fact. Over recent years, and obviously being middle eastern, I have discovered that rice is in fact my favourite food. That's saying a lot for a food blogger. But really... I can't resist rice. I just continue to shovel it in my mouth whenever I make a fresh pot. So when it comes to sharing my most favourite rice dishes....I don't joke around.
To help you on your rice discovery journey, I have hand picked and organized 15 rice recipes for you to try. There are easy recipes for a quick meal, special occasion rice entrees, and for when you have some more time on your hands, stuffed rice recipes. Check them out and let me know what you try!
What type of Rice is used in the Middle East?
Let's start with a review of the 3 main types of rice that are available and how each is used within Middle Eastern cuisine. Within each rice category, there is an array of rice varieties, each well suited for a specific type of application.
- Long-grain rice: This type of rice is, as the name suggests, the longest rice with a narrow width. It has the least amount of starch, and it separates well when cooked, yielding a fluffy texture. It is the most common type of rice used (especially in Arabic Rice which is the go-to side dish for most middle eastern stews) in the middle east, typically for pilafs, and in dishes that feature rice and meat as a main. This type of rice is the most forgiving when it comes to the right rice to water ratio.
- Medium-grain rice: This rice is shorter and wider than long-grain rice, and has more starch. That means that it tends to yield in a slightly more chewy and sticky texture when cooked. It's also trickier to cook than long grain rice and is sensitive to the water content. It is typically used in middle eastern dishes that require stuffing rice inside vegetables, and is also used as a pilaf, especially in Egyptian cuisine. In fact, medium grain rice is often referred to as "Egyptian Rice" in Arabic.
- Short-grain rice: Finally, short grain rice is the widest and shortest variety, with the highest starch content and the stickiest texture when cooked. It is often used (like medium grain) for dishes that require rice as a stuffing. Outside of middle eastern cuisine, its used in risotto, sushi, and poke bowls. It is also the most common rice used for rice pudding because of its creamy texture.
If you're a beginner in the kitchen, I recommend starting with long grain rice and mastering that first. It is the easiest rice to cook and the most commonly used in these recipes.
Types of Rice Dishes in the Middle East
When it comes to when, where and how we eat rice in the Middle East, I've come up with three general categories. Allow me to explain!
- Everyday rice
- Special occasion rice
- Stuffed rice dishes
Everyday Rice Dishes
One of the most common everyday meals in the middle east is white rice with a vegetable and meat stew (like fasolia or bamia). We have one main type of rice that we make with vermicelli noodles that is served on a daily basis. But to spice things up sometimes, we make a few different variations. But all of these are meant to be "weekday" meals and the rice is typically a side or supporting act, not a main attraction.
Special Occasion Rice Dishes
For special occasions, rice is typically prepared in grand quantities, almost always served underneath beef, lamb or chicken. Rice and meat is almost always found on the special dinner table at any middle eastern home. And what makes "special occasion" rice that much more special is the toppings!
Fried almonds or pine nuts, raisins, and sometimes fried onions are always scattered over top the rice and meat to add extra flavour, crunch and extravagance. These dishes are just so hard to resist, like the Iraqi Quzi below.
Stuffed Rice Dishes
Last, but certainly not least, remember how Arabs love to stuff everything...? Well, we love to stuff them with rice! A combination of meat and rice is the common stuffing for most of these dishes. And most of them use short grain or medium grain to achieve that sticky texture which works great in most of these dishes, like the yalanji (stuffed grape leaves) recipe below!
Tips for cooking rice perfectly
Ask any Middle Eastern mom or grandma and each one will give you their unique way of cooking rice. And while there are many tried and true methods out there, it does come down to a few basics that every beginner cook should keep in mind. These apply to rice in general, and each rice recipe will have specific instructions unique to the recipe.
My rules of thumb when it comes to cooking the best rice ever include:
- Wash your rice until the water runs clear. I can't stress this enough, no matter what type of rice you are using. Yes, it does take some time, and likely 7-8 cycles of washing and rinsing, but it's worth it. This isn't an issue of dirty rice. In fact, most rice that you buy will be fairly clean. The main objective here is to get rid of excess starch, which helps to ensure your rice is not too sticky.
- Use measuring cups. For some of you veteran cooks, maybe you don't need to. But if you're still struggling with cooking perfect rice, make sure you carefully measure your rice AND your water per the recipe to get great results. And make sure you use the same exact measuring cup for both the rice and the water.
- Use the right rice to water ratio for the type of rice you are using. This will be different depending on the type of rice, and also depending on whether or not the rice has other things mixed in it (like vermicelli noodles, meat, vegetables, etc.). For regular basmati rice, my go-to ratio is always 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup rice, with no soaking required. For medium or short grain, this depends on the type and it generally ranges from 1 to 1 and a quarter water to rice, and also involves soaking the rice for a bit.
- Season with salt generously. There's nothing more bland and disappointing than under seasoned rice. Seriously, make sure you season well. My rule of thumb here is to taste the liquid and ensure it is visibly salty... kind of like seasoning your pasta water.
- Use oil/butter and broth for ultimate flavour. I know a lot of people cook their rice with just water and salt. But that's if you want regular rice. If you want AMAZING rice... use chicken broth (or vegetable) and make sure you add some fat in the form of vegetable oil, butter, or ghee. You can even toast the rice in the fat before adding any liquid to bring out the nuttiness. Once you try cooking rice with broth and fat, you won't ever want to eat it any other way.
- Use boiling water for speediness. Trust me; just turn your kettle on. This cuts down the rice cooking time by a lot.
- When the recipes says don't open the lid; don't open the lid. Rice likes its own space once it gets settled in the pot. Give it space and time... don't try to open the lid and peek inside. Rice needs to steam with the heat that is created inside the pot, and opening the lid releases all the steam and will mess up the cook on it.
- Always fluff the rice with the back of a fork. Rice grains after cooking are fragile and can easily break, so gently fluffing it with the back of a fork is the best way to avoid breaking the grains.
- Allow the rice to stand for a few minutes after cooking. Rice will often feel "wet" or too soft as soon as its finished cooking. Allow it to stand after fluffing and it will dry up and become more sturdy and ready to eat.
- I like the idea of 10 tips, so here's one more bullet. I can't think of a tip though. Moving on!
Rice recipes for Everyday (Easy and quick)
These are some of my favorite recipes for easy meals to whip up. They shouldn't take you too long in the kitchen and can be served with any stew or protein of your choice.
Arabic Rice with Vermicelli
Shawarma Rice with White Sauce (in one pot!)
The Best Carrot Rice Recipe (Iraqi Timman Jizar)
Baghali Polo or Timman Bagilla (Dill Rice)
Instant Pot Tomato Rice
Rice dishes for Special Occasion
When I'm hosting a dinner, I also have one show stopper rice and meat platter on my table. Try one of my special occasion rice recipes for your next dinner party, and I'm sure it will beautifully decorate your table and satisfy your friends.
Maqluba (Makloubeh) with Lamb (Arabic rice dish)
Chicken Machboos (Saudi Arabian Kabsa)
Quzi (Authentic Iraqi Recipe)
Chicken Mandi (Yemeni Chicken & Yellow Rice)
Stuffed rice dishes
Stuffed rice meals are always a labour of love due to the time they take, but they are absolutely worth it! In one bite you get the rice with the melt-in-your-mouth vegetable that is the most delicious reward.
Iraqi Dolma (Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables)
Yalanji (Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Malfouf (Lebanese Cabbage Rolls)
Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers (Vegetarian)
If you tried these recipes, please consider leaving a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page - I'd love to hear from you! You can also hop on over to Instagram and say hello!
15 Middle Eastern Recipes Including Vermicelli Rice
- 1 cup vermicelli noodles
- 3 cups long grain rice basmati preferred
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cube chicken stock or vegetable stock optional
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 5 cups water
- Start by washing the rice several times until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.
- In a non-stick pot, heat the vegetable oil on medium heat. Then add the vermicelli noodles and cook until golden brown. Ensure you stir constantly as they tend to burn quickly. This should take 5-7 minutes
- Once they are a golden brown, add the drained rice, the salt, and the stock cube. Stir together for for a few minutes so the rice grains are coated in the oil
- Add the water, mix well, and allow it to come to a boil for a few minutes.
- Once it starts to boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Leave it undisturbed for 20 minutes
- Once 20 minutes is up, turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for another 5 minutes
- Fluff with a fork and serve with some fresh parsley and toasted nuts if desired
- The water ratio specified in this recipe is for long grain rice. For medium or short grain rice, use slightly less water. Long grain rice is the most forgiving, so I recommend using it
- The chicken stock is completely optional but it takes the flavour to another level