We’re Rice Men: Bhutanese Red Rice Pilaf

We’re rice men.

When I think of choosing a starch to accompany dinner, I always think of Tom Hanks’ character explaining away his son Jonah’s snarky potato comment in Sleepless in Seattle.  Because in my family, we also chose rice. We were rice men (and women).

Thanks to the Big Buddha, a bowl of rice was as commonplace on our table as the salt and pepper.  True to her propensity to keep things interesting in the kitchen, Mama Buddha didn’t necessarily limit herself to one particular type. While white was the favorite, Arborio, jasmine and basmati also made an appearance every now and again.  We even had wild rice. But, never red.


Red rice is a short grain rice grown singularly in Bhutanese Himalayas. Because it’s pretty much the staple rice there, I figured I had to make it. However, I was worried- where the heck was I going to find Bhutanese red rice?

Turns out, red rice is everywhere. Well, it was everywhere at Whole Foods. Not only did they have it in the bulk bins, but they had at least 3 packaged varieties.  I found that it had a texture that’s sort of a cross between brown rice and wild rice and I liked it very much.

I made this specifically to accompany the Ema Dashi and while it did nothing to alleviate the extreme heat of that dish, I did think it had enough pizzaz to shine on its own and would be a great accompaniment to almost anything, and offer a change from the mundane. I loved the variance in texture, the subtle sweetness and I will for sure be making this again.


Red Rice Pilaf

Adapted from the Silk Road Gourmet


1 cup uncooked red rice

½ cup uncooked brown rice

1 TB butter

1 medium red onion, finely diced

2 finger hot chilies, whole

1 TB ginger, minced

3 tsp garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 limed, juiced

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp freshly grated black pepper

3 ¾ cup water or chicken stock


1. Rinse the rice with cold water. Drain completely, shaking off any excess water.

2.  In a large (about 3 quart) saucepan with a cover or the bowl of your rice cooker, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent, 1 to 2 minutes, keeping the heat low so it won’t brown.  Add the garlic, ginger, salt and pepper.

3.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the melted butter. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes.

4.  Add the water or stock, lime juice, chilis and  bay leaf.

5.  Cover and gently simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes (or turn on the rice cooker). It’s done when all the stock is absorbed and the grains of rice are tender but still chewy. If you want the grains to be softer, add a bit more stock and cook for a few minutes longer until it reaches your desired texture.

6.  Fluff the rice with a fork and remove the bay leaf and chili. Season as needed.


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  1. Bhutan | The Hungary Buddha Eats the World
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