For a foodstuff that is consumed by half the world's population, in the west, we seem to value it so lightly. Of all the rice cooked at home in the UK, we throw away a staggering 40,000 tonnes every year, according to WRAP's Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom 2012 report.
The statistics from other countries aren't any better. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that about a third of rice bought by consumers is thrown out.
And to add to this appalling waste of a valuable food staple, there is a massive environmental impact in terms of water wasted too. Throwing out one kg of rice is the equivalent of 2,497 litres of water, if you take into consideration the amount of water needed to grow it, let alone cook it.
Having said that, I don't think I have ever cooked the exact amount of rice I need. That is partly deliberate since I am rather fond of fried rice, which benefits from drying out a little, but also because of how I cook rice by using a measurement of one mug of rice to one mug of water. Inevitably I make too much.
The advice on looking after rice is that it should be cooled as quickly as possible after cooking before storing in the fridge. It should not sit around at room temperature for any length of time. Quite often I will shove the pan of leftover cooked rice into a larger bowl of cold water, which quickly brings the temperature down before refrigerating. This is because uncooked rice can contain spores of a bacterium called Bacillus Cereus, which are resistant to heat and survive normal cooking temperatures. If cooked rice stays warm, the spores will flourish and germinate, producing a toxin that can cause food poisoning. This toxin is heat-resistant so will not be destroyed by cooking or reheating. So keeping rice chilled and eating it within one day is the best way to prevent any illness.
The recipes I have chosen to include are made with basmati rice. Felicity Cloake has a great recipe for cooking the perfect long grain rice.
1. Malaysian mixed herb rice salad (nasi ulam)
Malaysian vegetable and herb rice salad (nasi ulam). Photograph: Rachel Kelly
I can't authentically replicate this Malay dish of cooked rice dressed with a spicy and tart chilli and shrimp paste, as the herbs typically used are unavailable. However, I think this combination of herbs together with the crunchy raw vegetables makes a beautiful accompaniment to roasted or barbecued meats. It makes a good lunchbox salad too.
Serves 4 (as a side salad)
50g green beans, chopped
2-3 sweetheart cabbage leaves, finely shredded
5cm cucumber, de-seeded and diced
2-3 red radishes, diced
2 lemongrass stalks, very finely sliced (white parts only)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt, to taste
quarter tsp palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
about 450g cooked long-grain rice
a mixture of basil, coriander and mint, finely chopped
toasted coconut, to serve (optional)
3 red chillies, chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste (belachan)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
juice of 1 lime
Blend all the sambal belachan ingredients together to form a paste.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Fry about 2 tablespoons of paste for 2 to 3 minutes until slightly coloured and fragrant.
Combine the rice with the spice paste, making sure that the paste and rice is well mixed. (Break any clumps of rice up with your hands if necessary.)
Add the sugar and lime juice. Add salt to taste. (You probably won't need any since the shrimp paste is quite salty.)
Prepare the vegetables, ensuring that they are of a similar size or width.
Add the chopped vegetables to the rice mixture and toss well.
Serve with the remaining sambal belachan on the side. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if using.
2. Rice stuffing
I like to use rice as a stuffing for Mediterranean vegetables, such as peppers, courgettes and aubergines. It is also a lovely stuffing for vine leaves. Any leftover stuffing is actually rather nice as a side salad.
150ml olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts
1-2 tomatoes, diced
200g cooked rice (you can use long grain or short grain or risotto rice)
2 tbsp currants or barberries
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp ground allspice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat 3 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions until softened (about 10 to 15 minutes).
Add the pine nuts and continue to fry until golden.
Add the tomatoes and stir to combine before adding the cooked rice, dried fruit, fresh herbs, dried mint and allspice. Stir well and season to taste. Set aside to cool.
Other ideas for using up leftover rice:
3. Nigel Slater makes arancini, fried rice balls, a Sicilian way of using up leftover risotto rice. There is also an interesting way of using up leftover rice pudding in a cherry ice cream.
4. Priya Sreeram, blogging at Honest Cooking, uses leftover rice to make adai (crisp lentil and rice pancakes), a traditional southern Indian breakfast spiced with a little chilli and ginger.
5. While pilau and pilaf dishes are best made by cooking rice from scratch, Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen has a lovely seasonal cheat's pilau with spring vegetables.
6. Leigh Linley of The Good Stuff beer blog dreams up sunnier days by using up leftover paella to make deep-fried rice balls, perfect with a crisp beer.
7. Camilla from Fab Food 4 All has a simple pork fried rice recipe which also uses up some of the Sunday roast.
8. Jo Romero of Comfort Bites uses leftover rice to make fabulous burritos.
9. Cajun "dirty" rice might not be very pretty; ground pork and chicken livers do give it a bit of a grubby look. But looks are deceiving! It is absolutely delicious.
10. Congee is rice porridge eaten in south east Asia for breakfast. It is often served as a soothing dish for people who are unwell.
11. Jane Hughes' intriguing Rice-crusted quiche makes a pie crust using cooked rice and cheese.
12. Jeremy Lee's rice and spinach cake is a lovely light way to use up leftover rice.
13. I am intrigued by "calas", which are sweet rice balls from New Orleans made with long grain rice.
14. Yotam Ottolenghi's arancini recipe includes lamb (and he has a few ideas for other fillings too).
15. I like to make pressed cubes of rice using rice cooked with coconut milk to accompany spicy satay skewers.
16. You could try Rupert Kirby of Casa Rosada's canja, a traditional Portuguese chicken and rice soup.
17. Rachel at Wellworn Whisk's leftover fried rice is another family favourite.
18. My favourite fried rice recipe is nasi goreng, a Malaysian and Indonesian way of using up leftover rice, served with all sorts of interesting toppings such as egg and crunchy vegetable pickles.
19. The Morenas blog about Peruvian food at Peru Delights. Arroz chaufa is a popular stir-fry recipe in Peru reflecting the influence of the Chinese diaspora.
20. Dan Toombs AKA The Curry Guy kedgeree recipe is a lovely, spicy way of using up leftover rice.
21. Tania Cusack's chocolate cake made with leftover rice and salted caramel is gluten-free and looks delicious.
22. Lara Cory uses up leftover rice in her suet balls, to feed the birds during autumn and winter.
Pilau or pilaf? Jambalaya or gumbo? A soup or even in veggie burgers? Or what about suppli, rice balls stuffed with cheese from Rome? How would you use up leftover rice?
The Live Better Challenge is funded by Unilever; its focus is sustainable living. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.Rice stuffed peppers. Photograph: Rachel Kelly