How to Make Your Rice Taste Better

Depending on where you’re from, people eat anywhere from 26-300lbs of rice a year. What?!

That means you're probably eating at least two pounds of rice a month! And if you’re going to be eating over two pounds of rice a month, why make it boring?

If you want to know how I make my rice dishes pop with flavor without adding much time, if any, to the overall process keep on reading.


One of the steps for speeding up your grocery shopping was to "shop at home" - and that's exactly what I do when I make rice. Kailee and I keep it stocked and then I use what I have available to elevate it past a boring side dish.

So let's break it down - I'll run you through a McMahon household favorite which actually employs all of the variations I use when cooking rice: Honey Butternut Squash Rice

Get Your Ingredients Ready

As you can see below, I'm using a whole honey butternut squash, two cups of rice, half an onion, and a large clove of garlic (not pictured till later is a lime). 

honey butternut squash, a bowl of rice, half an onion, and a large clove of garlic


Prepare Your Ingredients

  • I dice the squash into quarter inch cubes, this will allow it to cook as fast as the rice.
  • Medium dice the onion.
  • Mince the garlic.
  • And... let the rice sit there I guess... I use an InstantPot to cook my rice and have  found that I don't need to rinse it, but if your rice typically gums out all gummy and overly sticky go ahead and rinse it. Read up on what kind of rice you should be rinsing here at The Kitchn.
  • And measure out the water you'll need for your rice.. pretend it's in the lower left corner of this picture. 

Mise en place!

Start Your Aromatics

In the pot you'll cook your rice in, drizzle a few teaspoons of olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion and sweat until it's starting to turn translucent, but not browned yet - about 3-5 minutes. 

Then add the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until very fragrant. 

Cook the Rice

Once the garlic is fragrant, I add the water I’ll be cooking the rice in to the pan. This will stop the cooking of the garlic and stop it from burning. Then I add the rice and a generous pinch of salt, give it a good stir, and then cook. 

And Cook the Honey Butternut Squash

While the rice cooks, drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a large skillet and heat over medium to medium-high. 

Cook the cubed squash, stirring occasionally to prevent too much browning on one side. The squash should be tender and browned after 7-10 minutes... maybe longer if you've crowded the pan too much. 

Taste test cubes as you go until you get to the desired doneness. Bring off heat once done. 

Surprise! Here's the Lime! 

While everything cooks because you forgot to do it before like me, zest one regular sized lime - Microplaners make this super easy.

It's zesting time!

And when the rice is done cooking dump in the zest and then fluff with a fork. The hot rice and steam will release the oils in the zest. 

So zesty...

Don't worry, it won't be like POW, LIME RICE! It’s a subtle essence of lime if you’ve done the right ratios. And now if you’re serving the rice in a Mexican dish you’ve just got a different lime flavor in your dish other than the slices you’ll probably be squeezing over the entrée.

Bring it all together... 

Then mix in your pan roasted squash with the rice and serve it up! It's super good, yo! 

Change it up as you like it

And the best part... is that you can use as many of these steps or as few as you want and adjust all the ratios to taste. It's super flexible. 

For example, we love garlic. We'll double the garlic ratio (or more sometimes) and have an intense garlic rice dish. And maybe leave out the onion entirely if I'm feeling laze. 

Or we don't always have 40 honey butternut squashes so we just do the garlic, onion, and citrus zest (orange is really good). 

If you try any of these tips I'd love to hear how it goes in the comments below - or hit me up if you have any questions!