Rice is by far the most common Middle Eastern side dish, followed by Arabic bread. There is hardly any main dish that doesn’t go well with rice.
Instead of plain rice, Arabs usually serve a type of flavored rice. One of the many variations is yellow rice. Let me show you how to make yellow rice the Middle Eastern way.
What is Yellow Rice?
Yellow rice is essentially white rice (usually Basmati) that is colored with turmeric, curcuma or saffron to get a vibrant yellow color.
It’s a popular rice recipe that you’ll find in many regions of the world. It’s common in the Middle East, India, South America – just to name a few. However, the exact preparation and ingredients vary from one country to another – and sometimes even from one family to another.
I’m going to show you my yellow rice recipe the way it’s prepared in the Middle East. Fun fact, yellow rice is particularly common in Egypt, Syria and certain Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon and Jordan, you’ll mostly find white butter rice (rice with vermicelli) which is also known as Lebanese rice.
Yellow Rice Ingredients
Yellow rice gets its delicious taste from just a few staple ingredients that you’ll most likely have in your pantry.
- Rice: Use white long-grain rice. I use Basmati rice as it yields the best result, Jasmine rice is a suitable alternative.
- Water: Water is used to boil the rice. You’ll need about 1.5 – 2 times the amount of water for your rice. For example, for 1 cup of rice, you should add 1.5 – 2 cups of water. The exact ratio depends on the type of rice you use. If you’re unsure, start with 1.5 cups of water for 1 cup of rice as outlined in my recipe and add more water if needed.
- Onions: Onions are the foundation of many Middle Eastern recipes. They certainly add to the flavor of your rice and will be very soft and mild in the final dish. However, you can also leave them out if you don’t like onions.
- Olive oil: You’ll need a little olive oil to fry the onions and spices. Suitable alternatives are butter or ghee. Even if you omit the onion, don’t skip the oil.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is what makes the rice yellow. If you don’t have turmeric, you can also use curcuma powder. Some people (especially Persians) use saffron. While saffron works perfectly fine too, it’s a rather expensive spice in most parts of the world. The effect is the same: vibrant yellow rice.
- Salt: A pinch of salt is added to the cooking water.
- Additional seasonings: Cinnamon (sticks or powder), cardamom (pods) and coriander powder. These additional seasonings make your rice more aromatic. If you leave them out, your rice will be rather simple in taste which is fine if you eat it with stews that have a lot of flavor. If you serve it alongside roasted or grilled vegetables or meat (which don’t have a gravy), I recommend that you add the additional seasonings to make your yellow rice more delicious.
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.
How to Make Yellow Rice (Step-by-Step)
Step 1: Soak and wash the rice
Before you start, soak your rice in plenty of water for about 30 minutes. Soaking rice improves its texture and taste and slightly reduces the cooking time. If you don’t have time, you can skip this step.
Wash the rice three times until the water runs clear. This step shouldn’t be skipped (for any rice recipe), as washing the rice will remove any excess starch and result in a better texture (your rice will be more fluffy). Set aside the washed rice.
Step 2: Prepare the onion
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Set aside. The onion adds to the flavor, but you won’t really feel it nor see it in your finished dish. If you absolutely don’t like onions, you can omit it. The recipe will still work out well. Simply proceed with the next step.
Step 3: Sauté the whole spices
Heat olive oil, butter or ghee in a large saucepan on high. Once the oil is heated, add the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods (cracked) to the saucepan. Sauté for about 30 seconds to release the aroma.
Note: in case you use powdered cinnamon and cardamom, skip this step and add them with the other ground spices after frying the onion.
Step 4: Sauté the onion
Now, add the chopped onion to the saucepan and fry for 3-4 minutes until translucent.
Step 5: Add seasonings
Once the onion is translucent, add the powdered seasonings (turmeric, salt and coriander powder) to the saucepan and stir briefly (about 30 seconds).
Step 6: Add rice
Now it’s time to add the rice. Add the washed rice to the saucepan and stir well. Fry on medium for 1-2 minutes (don’t add the water yet). The rice should first absorb the color and flavor from the oil and seasonings.
Step 7: Add water and let simmer
Now, add the water to the saucepan (ideally hot water) and stir well. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and close the lid. Let the rice simmer for 10-12 minutes. You don’t need to stir the rice in between (if you have a good saucepan). The rice is done once the water has been absorbed.
How to Serve Yellow Rice?
Yellow rice is the perfect side dish to many Middle Eastern main dishes. Serve it as a side dish for chicken dishes, roasted vegetables or stews.
Here are some dishes that are often served with yellow rice:
- Roasted or grilled meat like shawarma or kofta
- Grilled chicken
- Roasted vegetables
Make Ahead & Storage
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.
Arabic Yellow Rice
- 400 g (2 cups) Basmati rice
- 700 ml (3 cups) water for cooking the rice
- 1 onion yellow, medium
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 cinnamon stick or powder, see notes
- 10 cardamom pods
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Soak the rice for 30 minutes (optional). Wash the rice. Set aside.
- Peel and roughly chop the onion.
- Heat olive oil (or ghee or butter) in a large saucepan. Add the whole seasonings (cinnamon stick and cardamon pods (cracked)) to the hot oil. Sauté for 30 seconds to release their aroma.
- Add the diced onion. Stir well. Fry for 3-4 minutes until translucent.
- Add the powdered seasonings (turmeric, salt, coriander powder) and stir (30 seconds).
- Add the washed rice (don’t add the water yet). Stir well to allow the rice to absorb the flavors. Fry for 1-2 minutes.
- Add warm water to the saucepan. Stir well. Bring to a rolling boil.Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and close the lid. Let simmer for 10-12 minutes.
- How much water to cook rice? The ratio slightly varies depending on the type of rice. 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.
- Don’t have cinnamon sticks? You can also use powdered cinnamon instead. One cinnamon stick is equal to about 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder.
- Be sure to crack open the cardamom pods before you add them to the saucepan. They won’t release their full flavors if they aren’t opened. They remain in the rice during the cooking process. However, the cardamom pods won’t be eaten (people just pick them out of the food as they eat).
- The nutrition facts are rough estimates and can vary according to the exact weight, brand and type of ingredients used.
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.