If you’re anything like me, you love cilantro lime rice. Along with tasting amazing on its own, it goes with everything and is a great side dish.
If you’ve ever had the Chipotle cilantro lime rice, you know how addictive it is. It can go in burritos, in bowls, or on a combination plate. The best part about this recipe is that it comes together so easily. It’s definitely perfect for a weeknight dinner or meal prep. I think of cilantro lime rice as the bright, tart, refreshing cousin to arroz rojo or tomato tinged Mexican rice. If you’re a rice lover, you’ll want to make this recipe, stat.
What is cilantro lime rice?
Cilantro lime rice is fluffy long grain rice with cilantro and lime. It sounds simple, but like all delicious and good recipes, the dish is so much more than the parts. Cilantro lime rice is fresh and bright, fluffy, and full of herby cilantro flavor. It goes especially well with Mexican food and surprisingly great with Asian food too!
The secret to making amazing cilantro lime rice
There are 3 secrets to making amazing cilantro lime rice:
- First, toast the rice. Cooking raw rice in a bit of butter or olive oil brings out a bit of nuttiness. Toasting adds an especially deeper rice flavor.
- Second, use fresh limes. Use fresh limes for the lime juice and don’t forget the zest. Cooking the rice with lime zest lets the lime oil infuse the rice. Moreover, fresh juice adds just the right amount of tart.
- Third, add a bay leaf. A bay leaf adds a rich flavor to classic Mexican dishes. If you have them, use a Mexican bay leaf, otherwise, any bay leaf will work instead. Most recipes for cilantro lime rice skip out on this crucial step. Without a doubt, don’t sleep on the bay leaf – it’s what makes this homemade cilantro lime rice stand out from the rest.
Cilantro lime rice ingredients
- rice: classic long grain white rice is what is best – it’s fluffy and loose. You can get American long grain white rice, Jasmine, or basmati. I prefer American long grain white rice for this dish. More on rice choice below.
- neutral oil or butter: we’re going to toast the grains of rice to make them taste slightly nutty and even more like rice. You can use butter for a slightly richer taste or a neutral oil.
- bay leaves: Mexican bay leaves (pictured below) are indispensable to Mexican food. They add a mild avocado herby flavor and are that “can’t quite put your finger on it flavor” that gives well made Mexican food its authentic flavor. Mexican bay leaves are slightly more mellow than your classic American bay leaf. You can buy Mexican bay leaves in the Mexican aisle at the grocery store or online.
- lime juice and zest: fresh is best and we’re going to use both the zest and juice for the ultimate bright and fresh lime flavor.
- cilantro: fresh green flecks of cilantro add a huge hit of herbaceous flavor. We’re going for maximum cilantro flavor with 1/2 cup of loosely packed, freshly chopped leaves and tender stems.
- salt: you need salt to bring out the flavors of the rice, lime, and cilantro. I start with 1/4 teaspoon when cooking, then taste and as more if needed. Everyone’s salt preference is different, so make sure to season to taste.
- bonus: if you’re not vegetarian, use a low sodium chicken stock to cook your rice instead of water. It will infuse each grain of rice with a light chicken flavor.
How to make cilantro lime rice
- Rinse. The key to fluffy, distinct grains of rice is rinsing off any starch that might be on the outside. To begin, wash the rice in a fine mesh strainer in the sink, rinsing with cold tap water and swirling the grains with your hands. Drain the rice well.
- Toast. After that, heat up 1 tbsp neutral oil or butter until warm in a saucepan or sauce pot with a tightly fitting lid,. Add the drained rice and toast over medium high, stirring occasionally, until the grains look translucent and turn slightly golden. When the rice is translucent, stir in the minced garlic and toast for another minute.
- Cook. Add water, lime zest, a bay leaf, and salt to the pot. Then, bring the pot to a boil over high heat and when bubbly, cover with a lid, then turn the heat down the lowest it can go. Cook for 18 minutes, covered.
- Steam. When the 18 minutes are up, remove the pot, with the lid on, from the heat and let sit and steam for another 10 minutes with the lid on.
- Fluff. Finally, remove the lid and bay leaf and fluff up the rice, using a rice paddle or silicone spatula to gently scoop and mix up rice, moving the grains around the pot, fluffing, and aerating to remove any lumps.
- Season. Add the lime juice and cilantro and toss gently to incorporate. Taste and season with extra salt if needed. Enjoy!
Cilantro lime rice in the rice cooker
The main difference between stove top and rice cooker cilantro lime rice is the rice to water ratio. For a rice cooker, you need 1 cup of water for 1 cup of rice.
- Start off by rinsing your rice in a fine sieve, then drain well.
- Skip out on toasting the rice – rice cookers don’t get hot enough. If you want to toast your rice, do it on the stove in a pan, then add it to the rice cooker pot.
- Otherwise, add 1 cup of rice along with 1 cup water, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tbsp oil, lime zest from 1 lime, 1 bay leaf, and a 1/4 tsp salt.
- Cook the rice and when it’s done, open the rice cooker, and remove the bay leaf. Then, fluff the rice with the lime juice and cilantro. Enjoy!
Cilantro lime rice in the Instant Pot
The main difference between stove top and Instant Pot cilantro lime rice is the rice to water ratio. You only need 1 cup of water for 1 cup of rice.
- First off, rinse your rice in a fine sieve, then drain well.
- Then, turn the instant pot on sauté high and toast the rice in the oil, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
- After that, add 1 cup water, lime zest from 1 lime, 1 bay leaf, and a 1/4 tsp salt.
Cook on high pressure for 3 minutes then natural release for 10 minutes.
- When the 10 minutes are up, vent the pot, remove the bay leaf, and fluff the rice with the lime juice and cilantro. Enjoy!
Rice to water ratio
If you’re not a experienced rice maker, the number one question you probably have is: how much water do you need for 1 cup of rice. The common answer on the internet is 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water. This is wrong!
Believe me when I tell you a 1:2 ratio of rice to water is way too much water. In short, it will make your rice mushy, sticky, gummy, and clumpy. The more accurate ratio is 1:1.25. That is, 1 cup of rice to 1/4 cups of water. This ratio will give you al dente rice that is fluffy and distinct. Note, if you like your rice on the softer side you can increase the ratio to 1:1.5 or 1 cup of rice to 1.5 cups of water.
If you’re making rice in a rice cooker or an Instant Pot, the water to rice ratio is 1:1, which means, 1 cup rice to 1 cup water.
What kind of rice for cilantro lime rice?
The best rice to use is American long grain white rice. You can also use Jasmine or Basmati. The key is a long grain rice since long grain white rice comes out fluffy and dry with distinct grains. In essence, that’s exactly what we want for cilantro lime rice.
Do you need to wash rice?
It’s not strictly necessary, but washing rice rinses off excess starch. In this case it’s a good thing because we want the individual grains of rice to be distinct and fluffy. In effect, giving the rice a rinse will make the rice cook up loose and fluffy. To rinse your rice, simply measure it out, place it in a fine mesh colander, and rinse it under running water in the sink. If you are worried about arsenic in your rice, rice from California has basically no arsenic.
Can you eat cilantro stems?
Yes, absolutely! The stems have so much flavor and are as tender and delicious as the leaves. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pick off individual cilantro leaves and get rid of every single stem, just be sure to trim off most of the ends of the stalk. The stems near the leaves are tender and have a lot of flavor.
What to serve with cilantro lime rice
The rice-abilities are endless – hope you enjoy!
- 1 tbsp neutral oil or butter
- 1 cup rice long grain white, rinsed and drained
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 lime zested and juiced, separately
- 1 bay leaf Mexican preferred
- 1/4 tsp salt or to taste
- 1/2 cup cilantro chopped
Heat the oil or butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the raw rice and toast, stirring, until the rice turns a light golden brown. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add 1 and 1/4 cups water, the lime zest, bay leaf, and salt to the sauce pan. Bring everything to a rolling boil, lightly stir to break up any clumps of rice that may have formed, then cover tightly. Turn the heat all the way down to low and simmer for 18 minutes.
After the 18 minutes are up, remove the pot from the heat. Leave the lid on for another 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, remove the lid and bay leaf.
Gently fluff the rice. Stir in the lime juice and toss with the freshly chopped cilantro. Taste and season with more salt, if needed, and enjoy!
If you want a bit more flavor in your rice and you’re not vegetarian, use low sodium chicken stock instead of water when cooking the rice.
Cilantro Lime Rice
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 33
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 0.5g3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.