Arabic Rice Recipe (Butter Rice with Vermicelli)

Rice plays a special role in Middle Eastern cuisine. Rice is the side dish of choice, closely followed by pita bread.

Arabic rice is anything but boring. On the contrary, it’s very light, fluffy and delicious. From grilled meat to vegetable stews, it pairs well with pretty much all Middle Eastern main dishes. Every Arab family serves rice at least every other day. Sometimes as a side dish, sometimes as part of a one-pot meal.

With this step by step recipe, I’ll show you how to make Arabic rice quickly and easily at home. Besides, I’m also going to share a few additional tips about rice with you.

Arabic rice butter rice with vermicelli

What is Arabic Rice?

Rice is rice, right? Not even close!

Rice can be dry and boring if prepared incorrectly. On the other hand, rice can also be super delicious – provided it’s prepared the right way. Of course, this starts with the right amount of water, but it goes much further.

Middle Eastern rice is usually made with other ingredients in addition to white rice. There are several varieties of Arabic rice, for example yellow rice (turmeric spiced rice), rice with raisins and nuts, or the popular Arabic rice made with vermicelli.

The latter is the easiest and most popular version. Since the rice is cooked with a little butter, this Arabic rice is often called butter rice.

Ingredients for Arabic Rice

Below you’ll find the ingredients for Arabic rice.

  • Basmati rice: There are many different types of rice. In Arabic cuisine, basmati rice is the most popular. To prepare Arabic rice as a side dish, I usually use basmati rice, but sometimes I also use jasmine rice (pandan). You definitely need loose rice for Arabic rice, not rice in cooking bags. Loose rice is much cheaper than bagged rice anyway. Once you know how to cook rice properly, you’ll probably never buy bagged rice again.
  • Vermicelli: A special feature of Arabic rice is vermicelli. A short, fine noodle, similar to soup noodles. You can find them in every Middle Eastern grocery store and many supermarkets.
  • Butter: Traditionally, Middle Eastern rice is cooked in butter. Don’t worry, the amount of butter is quite low, so you don’t have to worry about the calories. If you don’t like butter or want to make vegan Arabic rice, you can also use ghee (vegetable ghee) or sunflower oil.
  • Water: Rice is cooked in water. Part of the water is absorbed by the rice, the other part evaporates. Unlike with pasta, the amount of water you add to rice is very important.
  • Broth cube (bouillon cube): Using broth is optional. It gives the rice a little more flavor. You can omit it if you don’t have broth cubes at home or don’t like it. Some brands contain way too much salt, which I personally don’t like. The brand (quality) is decisive.
  • Salt: Unlike pasta, salt is less essential when cooking rice. As a rule of thumb, you should add one teaspoon of salt for every 1 cup (200 grams) of rice. If using broth cubes (see above) and if these contain salt, you’ll need to add less salt.

Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe and can be adjusted according to the amount of servings you’d like to make.

Butter rice Lebanese rice

How Much Water to Cook Rice?

Using the right amount of water is crucial to producing perfectly fluffy and airy rice that won’t burn. As a rule of thumb, you need 1.5-2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice. This holds true when cooking in anordinary saucepan on the stove. The amount is slightly different if you cook rice in a rice cooker or pressure cooker.

  • Not enough water = rice will be undercooked, likely to burn
  • Too much water = rice becomes mushy

Arabic Rice Recipe (Step by Step)

Step 1: Wash rice

Something that you should never skip is washing your rice. Washing helps the rice lose unnecessary starch residue and rinses away any impurities.

Add rice to a large bowl (or fine mesh strainer) and add plenty of water. Stir with your hands. Once the water turns white (starch residues), pour out the water. Repeat the process 2-3 times until the water runs clear. Place washed rice aside.

Step 2: Mix water and bouillon cube

To cook rice, you could just use plain tap water, of course. To give this rice some additional flavor, we’ll add some broth to the water. If you happen to have some homemade / leftover broth, that’s the perfect way to use it. However, most of us don’t make the effort to make broth from scratch and that’s where bouillon cubes (broth cubes) come in handy. In fact, they are quite common in Middle Eastern countries nowadays. For butter rice, you can use vegetable broth cubes or chicken broth cubes, either works well.

To dissolve the bouillon cube, add it in a mixing bowl and add hot to boiling water from the kettle or the tap. Stir well to dissolve. Cover and set aside (we’ll need it in a couple of minutes).

Step 3: Heat butter and toast vermicelli

Heat butter in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the vermicelli to the saucepan and toast until slightly golden. We’ll add the raw vermicelli to the butter. You don’t have to precook them, as they will cook together with the rice. Toasting them in butter beforehand will give them some color, flavor and texture. Be sure to keep stirring to prevent the vermicelli from becoming too dark, or even burning. Toasting the vermicelli in butter takes about 2 minutes at max.

Step 4: Add rice

Once the vermicelli are slightly golden, add the washed rice to the saucepan. Stir well to combine with the vermicelli and fry for another minute to combine the flavors, before adding any water.

Step 5: Add water

Add the water with the dissolved broth cube to the saucepan. Depending on the brand of your broth (and how much salt it contains), you might need to add less salt. As a rule of thumb, you need one teaspoon of salt for each cup of rice (1 cup rice = 200 g = 1 teaspoon of salt). However, since most brands of broth contain salt, I tend to reduce the amount of salt. Bring the water in the saucepan to a boil, and boil on medium heat for about 1-2 minutes.

Step 6: Simmer

Once the water has boiled for a minute or two, reduce the heat to low and close the lid. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes. For this rice cooking method, it’s important that you cook the rice on very low heat from this step onward, aka simmer. Otherwise, the water will evaporate too quickly and the rice might not be fully cooked.

The exact cooking time depends on the brand of rice and is generally between 10 to 12 minutes. The rice is ready when all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. If it’s your first time cooking rice this way, or if you’re testing a new brand of rice, check after 10 minutes if your rice is done. Once you’ve figured out the perfect rice water ratio for your brand of rice, you don’t have to open the lid nor stir the rice inbetween.

Step 7: Let sit & serve

Once the rice is ready, turn off the stove and let sit for another 5 minutes (lid closed) before serving. Serve in the saucepan or transfer in a bowl or on a platter to serve.

Arabic rice butter rice with vermicelli

What to Serve with Rice?

Arabic rice is a popular side dish served with many main dishes. Butter rice goes well with savory stews such as Lubia (green beans in tomato sauce) or Fasolia (white bean stew). Many families serve bread as a side dish in addition to rice, especially when there are lots of guests.

Rice can also be combined with yogurt. Use either plain yogurt or a Middle Eastern yogurt sauce.

Storage & Make Ahead

Rice tastes best warm, right after cooking. It isn’t a dish you’d typically make ahead of time.

However, it can be a timesaver to make a larger portion of rice for 2 days if you have a small family. Let cool completely after cooking (lid closed). Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Warm up in the microwave or on the stovetop (add a little bit of oil or water).

Other Arabic recipe recipes that can be served as a side dish:

Any Questions or Feedback?

If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.

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Arabic rice butter rice with vermicelli

Arabic Rice (Butter Rice with Vermicelli)

Kitty Ramasamy
By far the most popular type of rice, Arabic butter rice with vermicelli. Perfect as a side dish for a variety of main dishes. Light, fluffy and delicious Arabic rice.
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Middle Eastern, Lebanese
Servings 6 people
Calories 333 kcal

Ingredients
 

  • 400 g (2 cups) white rice e.g. Basmati rice
  • 100 g (1 cup) vermicelli
  • 4 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 700 ml (3 cups) water
  • 1 cube broth cube vegetable or chicken broth/bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp salt see notes

Instructions
 

  • Wash the rice in the bowl and drain the water. Repeat the process until the water runs clear (2-3 times).
  • Put a bouillon cube in a mixing bowl, add hot to boiling water (from the kettle or the tap) and stir well to dissolve. Cover and set aside.
  • Heat butter in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Add vermicelli (uncooked!) to the melted butter and toast until slightly golden. Keep stirring to prevent them from becoming too dark or burning.
  • Add the rice to the saucepan, stir well and briefly fry for another minute.
  • Add the water (with the dissolved broth cube) and the salt. Stir again. Bring to a boil and boil on medium for 1-2 minutes.
  • Once the water boils, reduce the heat to low. Close the lid and simmer for about 10-12 minutes (stirring inbetween is not required, keep the lid closed).
  • The rice is ready when all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the stove and let sit for another 5 minutes (lid closed) before serving.

Notes

  • How much water to add? The ratio slightly varies depending on the type of rice and the moisture content it has after you wash it. As a rule of thumb, the perfect ratio of water to white rice ratio is 1.5-2 cups water to 1 cup rice. For me, 1.5 cups of water for 1 cup of washed Basmati rice works perfectly. You may need a little more or less than me. If you’re unsure, I recommend that you start with a ratio of 1.5 cups of water for 1 cup of rice. Add a little more water to the saucepan if you feel your rice is not cooked yet.
  • Use white long-grain rice, such as Basmati rice. Short grain rice works less well for this recipe. Brown rice has a much longer cooking time and needs more water when compared to white rice.
  • The amount of salt to add to the rice depends on the broth you use. As a rule of thumb, you should add one teaspoon of salt for every 1 cup (200 grams) of rice. If using broth cubes (see above) and if these contain salt, you’ll need to add less salt. 

Nutrition

Calories: 333kcalCarbohydrates: 73gProtein: 6gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.2gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 52mgPotassium: 179mgFiber: 1gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 443IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 38mgIron: 1mg

Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.

Keyword Rice, Arabic Rice
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