How to make the perfect Mexican rice.

My mother-in-law is Mexican-American. That makes Joseph a halfie (half white, half Mexican), but if you ask him, his upbringing was much more Mexican in culture than white.

One of the things he ate almost every day was Mexican rice.

When we first got married, I tried to duplicate his mom’s rice, but to no avail. For years, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Through some trial and error, I’ve discovered there are a few “secrets” to making the perfect Mexican rice. If you want truly authentic rice, you can’t skimp on any of these ingredients!

[A note here, I use oil in this recipe. Please read this post on what I think about oils.]

#1 Spices.
The right spices in the right amounts. (You’re in luck, I’m going to give you the secret blend.)

#2 Garlic.

Fresh, and freshly minced, please. [Go here to see me give a step by step tutorial on how to mince garlic.]
#3 Bay Leaves.
I LOOVE these things. They give just a subltle touch of earthiness to each dish they grace, I love ’em! But please, please discard the leaf before you serve the dish. Nothing quite as bad as accidentally chewing on one of these bad boys, it’s akin to finding a crisp autumn leaf in your soup or rice. Not pleasant.
#4 White Rice.
Sorry, brown rice only folks. Brown just doesn’t work in the same way with this recipe.

#5 Oil & a cast iron skillet.

Yes, oil. I have tried with all my might to find a way to replicate my mother-in-law’s authentic Mexican rice without the oil, and it just doesn’t work. I learned how to successfully minimize the amount of oil, but you can’t skip the oil if you want it to turn out right. If you are absolutely oil-free, try using the spice mix, water, and tomato sauce with some brown rice in a rice cooker. Not exactly the same, I’m warning ya, but it can work.

There’s something about the cast iron skillet that it tastes authentic. You can use a regular pan, but be forewarned, it’s not the same (I’ve tried it, and know!).

Here’s the recipe:

Authentic Vegan Mexican Rice
Serves 6-8, GF, SF

I happen to know my mother-in-law uses chicken boullion in her rice, so I omitted that (instead using nutritional yeast, salt, and sugar), and used my own mix of spices. It’s not exactly the same as my mother-in-law’s, but it’s good enough to keep my husband and kids happy.

The secret to making truly authentic tasting rice is in the frying process and in making sure you don’t lift the lid while it’s simmering. All of the other steps are important too, so don’t skip or cut corners, and you won’t be disappointed!
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2-4 small/medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 TBS. canola oil
Spice Mix:
  • 1 TBS. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (non-spicy)
  • 1/4 tsp. chipotle chile powder (optional, adds a little spice)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2-3 bay leafs
  • 1 TBS. nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar (or sucanat or evaporated cane juice)
  • 3 3/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. tomato paste
First, pour oil in heavy cast iron skillet. Let the oil warm on medium-high heat. Pour rice in skillet. Add minced garlic.
With a wooden spatula, stir-fry for a few minutes until the rice becomes almost translucent, and is well coated.
Add spice mix.
And stir for an additional minute or so (by now your kitchen will smell amazing!).
Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. When a boil is reached, cover with a tight lid and reduce to medium-low heat. Set the timer for 20 minutes and then forget about it! Once timer goes off, turn off stove, lift lid and your rice should look like this:
Discard bay leaves, stir and serve!
To make it a meal, add some vegan nacho taquitos, cheesey sauce, some shredded lettuce, guacamole and chopped tomatoes for garnish.

Don’t forget to serve with a side of beans, too!


  1. Chelsea
    on October 23, 2014 at 4:12 am said:

    Hi, this recipe looks amazing but I was wondering if anyone thinks the taste would be thrown off if I were to swap the white rice for brown and possibly use olive oil instead of canola? Also, would the cooking time change if I were to use brown rice? Just seeing if I could make the recipe a tad bit healthier.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 23, 2014 at 6:29 am said:

      Hi Chelsea!

      Great question. My two cents? Brown rice does much better on it’s own (just plain & steamed). I’ve tried subbing with brown rice with less than stellar results–usually the rice is just chewy &/or too “wet.” I admit, when cooking brown rice I only ever use a rice cooker (& keep it plain, then add stuff AFTER it’s cooked) because for me it saves me a bit more time & is nearly always perfect (as opposed to only 50% of the time on the stove).

      A few readers have let me know they’ve made my cilantro/lime rice (from my ebook Simple) with using brown instead of white. I’ve never had anyone let me know they’ve made the Mexican rice with brown with success–you could be the first! Let me know if you try it & how it turns out ๐Ÿ™‚

      Also, I always pair this rice with beans & boat load of fresh veggies, so I’m getting plenty of fiber & lots of other good stuff in the meal. For me, the rice gets my kids excited about eating beans & stretches the meal even further (less than $.05 a serving if you can get your rice in bulk, like at Costco).
      And yes, you’ll want to increase the cooking time by about 30 minutes, & add an additional 1/4 cup for every 1 cup of brown rice (so, 2 1/4 c. water for every cup of brown rice).

      Hope this helps, & good luck!

    • Vienna
      on February 13, 2016 at 11:33 pm said:

      I made this with brown and used the pressure cooker – 2 simultaneous experiments! I did one 12 min run then a 30 minute and that seemed to be perfect. It was still ‘wet’ but the bottom was barely starting to stick. It did have a sticky sort of quality, but I personally am fine with it. It had a dominant flavor of the spices as opposed to a tangy tomato flavor.

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  3. jennifer
    on March 31, 2013 at 7:22 am said:

    Hi, so you cook the white rice separately before you make this? The recipe says 2 cups white rice, so I assume it’s cooked before hand as in the pictures it looks cooked already ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Janae
      on March 31, 2013 at 9:00 am said:

      The 2 cups of rice that you need is uncooked.

  4. Tina
    on March 7, 2012 at 3:06 am said:

    I've always made Mexican rice with just brown rice, salsa, and bullion. So nice to see it another way. I'll definitely give it a try!

  5. Melissa DeLeon
    on March 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm said:

    Seriously — why can't mother-in-laws share the info on how to make awesome mexican food?! Then again, after watching my mother in law make tortillas using nothing more than a bowl (to scoop flour) and a pitcher full of water, I saw her time-tested genius in action and realize I just can't ask her how to "measure" any of that. Your rice looks really delicious though, so I'm certainly intrigued to try.

  6. Lindsay
    on March 6, 2012 at 6:26 am said:

    This looks so yum! I will try it both ways – rice cooker way for most, and the authentic way occasionally would make my husband and kids happier. Thanks!

  7. Anonymous
    on March 6, 2012 at 1:12 am said:

    I would make the "inauthentic" version of this with brown rice and no oil, but the spices look awesome. Thanks!lfwfv