Basic Syrian Rice

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Simple, moist long-grain white rice cooked with oil, onions, and salt, riz is the most basic dish served at any Syrian meal. Piping hot on a platter with browned pine nuts sprinkled on top, riz is one of the most important dishes served during most any meal. Like bread to the French, rice is a staple without which no Syrian meal would be complete. It goes with all dishes, especially tomato-based sauces containing apricots. Because it is made with oil and not butter, it is parve (neither meat nor dairy) and can be served with fish, meat, chicken, vegetarian, or dairy dishes. When my friends taste this rice dish, they are surprised that white rice can taste so good. Indeed, with lots of onions, oil, and salt, how could it be bad? Basic it is, plain it is not.

NotesIf you want to make traditional “crusty rice”, follow the recipe for riz, sautéing the onions in an additional 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Once the rice is fully cooked through (10 to 20 minutes), continue to cook, covered, for an additional 50 minutes to 1 hour over low heat, checking every 10 minutes to make sure that the bottom of the rice is browning, but not burning. Remove from the heat. Scoop out the soft part of the rice and place in a bowl. Scrape out the crunchy brown rice (the a’hata) and serve either on the side in a separate small bowl or sprinkled on top of the soft rice.

Serves4 to 5 (2 1/3 cups)



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseside dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, vegan, vegetarian

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturecrunchy, nutty, salty, savory


  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onions
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • ½ cup vermicelli or thin soup noodles
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup boiling water


  1. Place the rice in a medium-size bowl, add 4 cups of the cold water, and let soak for 10 minutes.

  2. Heat the oil in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan for about a minute over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring, until wilted and golden, 3 to 4 minutes; do not allow to brown or burn.

  3. Add the remaining 2 cups cold water and the salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and add to the boiling water. Stir once gently and continue to boil briskly, uncovered, until the water is cooked down to the surface level of the rice, about 5 minutes.

  4. Cover tightly, reduce the heat as low as it will go, and steam until all the water is fully absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy, 10 to 20 minutes.

  5. Fold the rice over very gently with a soup spoon. Sprinkle the top with the warm water to moisten. Serve hot, with the pine nut or vermicelli garnish, if desired.

  6. If using the optional pine nut garnish, just before serving the rice, heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir constantly until the nuts are brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn.) Put the rice in a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the hot nuts. Serve immediately.

  7. If using the optional vermicelli garnish, break the noodles into small pieces, about ½ inch long. Heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is very hot, add the noodles and stir constantly until the pieces are brown. Add the water, stir, and cook until the noodles are soft, about 8 minutes. Mix half of the noodles into the rice. Place the rice in a serving bowl or platter and garnish with the remaining hot noodles. Serve immediately.


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