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How to Use Leftover Rice

Doesn’t it always seem that there is leftover rice after a meal? No problem! Leftover rice is great to use. If you have never cooked rice before, first refer back to our post Cooking The Perfect Pot of Rice.

Cooling and Storing Extra Rice

Once you have extra portions of rice, cool it down like a pro. Restaurants spread extra hot rice on a cookie sheet or a large plate, depending on how much is left. The rice should be spread in a layer 1-inch thick. This allows the rice to cool evenly, with less sticking when you heat it up. Once the rice is a little cooler than room temperature, you can unlayer it and place it in covered bowls or storage containers. All cooked rice must be stored in the refrigerator for food safety.

By the way, if you like the taste of sushi rice, purchase rice wine vinegar and a dry vegan sweetener, such as turbinado, palm, or date sugar. While your rice is cooling in a thin layer, gently sprinkle a very small amount of vinegar and an even smaller amount of sweetener over the rice. You can eat this rice cold or warmed, with pickled ginger (sold in many grocery stores and Asian markets) and chopped fresh chili. If you are really ambitious, you can chop fresh mushrooms and toss with a little rice wine vinegar and some sesame seeds, add these to the rice, and make a ‘jumbled,’ rather than rolled, sushi mixture. If you want to be very authentic, the rice should be a short-grained white or brown rice.

Reheating Cooked Rice

To successfully reheat cooked white or brown rice, place it in a container that allows at least 2-3 inches of extra room. Sprinkle with water, vegetable broth, or mushroom broth just to dampen the top. You can cover the container and microwave on HIGH for 1-2 minutes, depending on your microwave and the amount of rice. Or you can preheat your oven to 400 degrees, wrap the moistened rice tightly in aluminum foil, and allow it to heat for 5-8 minutes, depending on the amount of rice. Both methods will give you a steaming bowl of soft rice. Top with canned tomatoes and canned mushrooms, thawed frozen peas, or fresh or thawed frozen broccoli or cauliflower florets. Garnish with granulated garlic flakes, nutritional yeast, chopped walnuts, almonds, peanuts or cashews, or, if you have the time, chopped fresh cabbage tossed with a small amount of soy sauce.

‘Rice Milk’

Place extra portions of cold or warm cooked white or brown rice into a blender with a small amount of water (approximately 1 cup rice to 1/4 cup water) to make a ‘rice milk.’ Use this liquid to thicken a can of soup or as part of your cooking liquid for hot cereals.

You may want to try making hot cocoa with your ‘rice milk.’ Put one cup of ‘rice milk’ in a small pot and stir in approximately 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder and rice syrup or other vegan liquid sweetener to taste. Stir and allow to heat. You’re done! You’ll have a steaming cup of hot cocoa in about 3 minutes.

You can also create your own steamer with ‘rice milk.’ Heat on the stove and stir in ground cinnamon, powdered ginger, a dash of nutmeg, and some rice syrup, maple syrup, or apple juice concentrate to sweeten.

‘Rice milk’ can also be the basis for fruit smoothies, combined with blended bananas, mango, pineapple, or watermelon. If you make too much smoothie mix, pour the leftovers into ice cube trays or individual containers to make your own vegan sherbet.


Congee, also called rice porridge, is the Asian version of cream of rice cereal. Congee is made by mixing equal parts of cooked rice and water. Cover this combination and allow the rice to simmer until it becomes extremely mushy. This can be done on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, such as a Crock-Pot®. Some people allow their congee to cook until it resembles a rice gravy.

Plan on putting a pot of congee on to cook when you walk in the door. A small amount (approximately 2 cups of rice and 2 cups of water) can simmer away, unattended, for about an hour. This will give you time to relax and to select your garnishes.

Congee is the perfect palette for a savory meal-just top with mushrooms, dried or fresh onions, chopped peanuts or almonds, and lots of black pepper. You can also add small chunks of extra firm tofu that have been tossed with a little soy sauce or hot sauce. Congee is rarely served sweet, but if you would prefer it that way, simply add maple syrup, dried fruit such as raisins, and chopped canned fruit, such as pineapple or peaches.


Extra cooked white or brown rice can be mixed with commercially available vegan ‘ground round’ to make baked loaves or meatballs. If the mixture is a bit dry, add in some silken tofu. Bake these items with a mushroom or tomato sauce.

Here are some ideas for using extra white or brown rice to create new entrées:

  • Heat a skillet and spray with vegetable oil. Toss in the rice, some frozen peas or edamame (soybeans), and/or fresh or drained, canned sliced mushrooms, and stir constantly. Season with soy sauce, nutritional yeast, or your favorite spice blend. Garnish with shredded cabbage, chopped scallions, or salsa. You should have a hot entrée in approximately 4 minutes.
  • Place leftover rice in a small pot, and mix with drained, canned tomatoes, cooked beans, and/or frozen mixed veggies. Add tomato juice, tomato sauce, vegetable broth, or water to a depth of an inch, and allow this to simmer for 10 minutes. You’ve got a rice stew!
  • Mix cold rice with leftover chopped cooked greens, such as kale, spinach, or chard. Toss with sesame seeds and a small amount of vinegar. You’ll have a cold rice salad!

Other Quick Ideas

Combine leftover white or brown rice with any of the following and then microwave or sauté with a small amount of vegetable oil spray:


  • Chopped green bell peppers, chopped tomatoes, chopped parsley, and chopped walnuts
  • Chopped parsley, bread crumbs, lemon juice, and minced smoked tofu or seitan
  • Chopped green bell peppers, chopped onions, chopped celery, chopped mushrooms, pimentos, cayenne, and paprika
  • Cooked wild rice, minced garlic, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and dry sherry
  • Red bell peppers, Soyrizo or crumbled vegan sausage, paprika, oregano, and shallots
  • Scallions, water chestnuts or jicama, cilantro, and soy sauce
  • Chopped fresh parsley, minced garlic, curry powder, and soy margarine
  • Forest blend mushrooms (a commercial mixture similar to mixed vegetables available in the produce, refrigerated, dried fruit and vegetable, or soup section in many supermarkets) and sherry


  • Pineapple and maple syrup
  • Peanut, almond, hazelnut, apple, or soy butter, cinnamon, and ginger
  • Minced dried apricots, raisins, and almonds
  • Shredded coconut, maple syrup, nutmeg, and cloves

Spicing up Your Rice

If you eat a lot of rice, consider making your own rice spice blends, including:

  • Allspice and black pepper
  • Black pepper and lemon zest
  • Red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and granulated garlic
  • Lemon zest, orange zest, and ground fennel
  • Orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
  • Chili and thyme
  • Paprika, cumin, dry mustard, red pepper flakes, and cloves
  • Black, white, red, and green peppercorns
  • Cinnamon, green peppercorns, and cloves
  • Cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg
  • Toasted cumin seeds, ginger, ground cloves, and star anise
  • Turmeric, ground red pepper, and coriander
  • Coriander, sage, marjoram, and juniper berries
  • Dried raisins, apricots, figs, and lemon zest

Store these spice blends in airtight plastic or glass containers, and remember to label them! Then, simply sprinkle on cooking or cooked hot rice

Written by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE for The Vegetarian Resource Group.

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