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Restaurant-Style Mexican Brown Rice (Spanish Rice)

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A Mexican rice recipe everyone loves, better with brown rice.

It’s time for Mexican rice (Spanish rice) go go from side dish to center stage. This Mexican brown rice recipe is easy, flavorful, healthy and looks gorgeous on a plate.

platter of finished mexican or spanish rice with avocado and cilantro

Often relegated to the scoop of semi-forgotten, obligatory add-on to most Mexican meals (at least in American Mexican restaurants), a well-made homemade Mexican rice is flavorful, colorful, and all-around great. This easy Mexican (or Spanish) rice recipe checks all the boxes — with extra nutrition from brown rice.

onion rice tomato cilantro

Why Is Mexican Rice Also Called Spanish Rice?

The short answer is that no one is completely certain why Mexican rice also gets called Spanish rice. We do know, however, that the Spanish first brought rice to Mexico in the 1500s, when they began conquering and settling the territory.

Another explanation for the interchangeable name lies simply in the fact that Spanish is the predominant language in Mexico. Hence the name Spanish rice. Mexican rice recipes evolved to include ingredients native to South and Central America, such as tomatoes and peppers.

You’ll also like: Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Black Beans and Rice)

pot of mexican rice about to be cooked

Restaurant-Style Mexican (Spanish) Brown Rice: Recipe Notes

Whether you call it Mexican or Spanish rice, this healthy brown rice recipe yields fluffy rice with a bright orange color and mild chili flavor.

This is a fairly straightforward, one-pot recipe. Cooking the onions and peppers first softens them and starts to “bloom” the flavor into the rice. The rest is just a matter of regular steamed rice with some bonus ingredients stirred in. Below are some more notes.

platter of finished mexican or spanish rice with avocado and cilantro

Can I Substitute White Rice Instead? (And Other Variations)

  • Swapping the rice: Most Spanish rice recipes use white rice. This recipe calls for brown rice to make it heartier and more nutritious. You can easily substitute white rice. Just be sure to adjust the proportion of liquid.
  • Whatever rice you choose, make it a long-grain rice and not a starchier short-grain variety.
  • Make this a vegan Mexican rice. To make this vegan, swap out the chicken broth for vegetable broth or water.
  • Top with scallions and cilantro for a pop of color, and you have a fabulous, festive side dish that finally gets the attention it deserves.

platter of finished mexican or spanish rice with avocado and cilantro

Pair your Mexican Brown Rice with these other great dishes:

mexican brown rice or spanish rice

Restaurant-Style Mexican Brown Rice (Spanish Rice)

The colorful, flavorful Mexican side dish we all love, better and healthier with brown rice.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Course: dinner
Cuisine: Mexican
Keywords:: Cinco de Mayo, easy, mexican, rice, side dish, tomatoes
Servings: 4 people
Print

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/2 green or red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 teaspoons mild chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste (I sometimes do up to 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 1/2 cups no-sodium chicken broth, water, or both

Instructions

  • Heat the oil over in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the rice, onion, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly tender and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic, drained diced tomatoes, salt, chili powder, and broth. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook, covered, until fluffy, about 45 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Taste for seasoning and serve hot.
    PRO TIP: Feel free to substitute white rice instead of brown. This will cook faster and is more "restaurant style." Just make sure you adjust the ratio of liquid according to the package directions, as well as the cooking time. You may also want to rinse the white rice several times to remove excess starch.

35 comments

  • 5 stars
    Haven’t tried this yet but it sounds great! I just make plain brown rice and wanted to try something seasoned. Am I mistaken in that I have to stir fry “uncooked” brown rice along with the veggies before it cooks cooked in water?

    • Unpeeled

      Yes, that’s right! It helps build a little flavor, similar to a risotto technique. Hope you enjoy!

  • Meleah Gray

    Question, I notice you said a rice cooker is fine to use but you didn’t mention adjusting the amount of liquid. What would you suggest the liquid amount should be for a rice cooker using brown basmati?

    Thank you

  • 5 stars
    I made this last night & it was very good. I will most definitely be making this often!

    • Unpeeled

      So glad you liked it! I always like to find ways to make rice a little more interesting, and this is one of my favorite recipes for that. Thanks for the note.

  • MaryAnn Voltz

    Can you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth?

  • 5 stars
    Can this be made in a rice cooker?

    • Unpeeled

      Yes, but be sure to cook the vegetables separately first, then proceed.

  • Robin Deon

    5 stars
    My husband and I just love this rice. Made it several times. It has become a favorite with Tacos, Burgers, and Enchiladas. Can you tell me the calories per serving?

    • Unpeeled

      So glad you love it! I am in the process of upgrading my recipe cards so that they will display nutrition information, so stay tuned! Sorry I can’t provide this info to you at this time.

  • James LaValley

    Why do so many, so-called “healthy” recipes call for canned tomatoes? Why not encourage people to use fresh tomatoes, with a variation of using canned tomatoes? Fresh tomatoes are much healthier and taste better.

    Just saying…

    • Unpeeled

      Good point and it’s well taken. I do think that fresh tomatoes are an excellent way to go–as long as you can get good ones. Though fresh are often my preference as well, canned tomatoes actually are equally nutritious (so long as they are sodium free, perhaps), and make a good option for people without access to ripe tomatoes year ’round. This Cleveland Clinic article is informative: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-fresh-vegetables-healthier-than-frozen-or-canned/ Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  • 5 stars
    This is a fantastic recipe! I followed it almost exactly, only I did soak my rice for several hours first. I’ve found that it’s hard to get the right texture cooking brown rice on the stove unless you soak the rice ahead of time. My wife and I both loved this recipe, and it’s going to replace the one we’ve been using for years.

  • Hello-I only have short grain brown rice on hand, if I rinse it will it work okay with this recipe?

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Jess. Short-grain brown rice will be a little stickier and less fluffy than long grain, and tends to retain a little more moisture. But you could certainly make the recipe with short-grain rice and just expect a little textural difference. Just compare the rice: liquid ratio on the package and adjust my recipe as necessary. Enjoy!

  • Hi there, could I use a jar of salsa instead of diced tomatoes?

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Sophie! That is such an interesting questions. As long as the measurement is the same, I actually think this would work well! The flavor would be different, of course, with the added salsa ingredients, but this might be a really fun way to go. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.

      • 5 stars
        Thank you for your response! It worked! Would recommend. All I had on hand was a jar of salsa 🙂 Great recipe!

        • Unpeeled

          I can’t tell you how excited I am that you tried this. They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and I think you just invented something amazing! I am actually going to try this very soon. Yea!!!

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