Spanish Rice

This Spanish rice is quick to make and packed with flavor! Also called Mexican rice, it’s an easy side dish to pair with tacos, enchiladas, and more.

Spanish rice

Here’s our new favorite easy side dish to go with tacos and enchiladas: Spanish rice! Contrary to its name, it’s actually not Spanish at all. It’s a Mexican-style red rice: and I’m not sure how we went so long without it in our repertoire! As often as we make tacos around here, it’s our new go-to. This recipe is a quick and easy spin: it uses salsa to get big flavor quickly. It’s also got a special flavor secret that takes it from good to irresistible. Here’s how to make it!

Got a pressure cooker? Go to Instant Pot Spanish Rice.

What is Spanish rice? Is it Mexican?

So: Spanish rice is not Spanish at all! It’s actually a Mexican dish, sometimes called Mexican rice or arroz rojo (“red rice” in Spanish). It gets its red color from cooking it with tomatoes. Rice dishes in Spain are usually yellow colored from using saffron. The country’s best known rice dish is paella! (If you follow along here, you’ll know I’m a Spain fanatic and we have lots of paella recipes and a Spain travel guide.)

Why is it called Spanish rice? No one knows for sure, but it’s possible that it got the name because the Spanish introduced rice to Mexico when they invaded back in the 1500’s. Whatever the case, it’s damn good and worth adding to your Mexican side dish arsenal.


Spanish rice ingredients (aka Mexican rice)

There are lots of variations on how to make Spanish rice. Just like a dish like coleslaw or potato salad, everyone has their own spin on this side dish. Alex and I wanted this Mexican rice to be as easy as possible, but with as much flavor as possible (just like our Pretty Simple cookbook!). So we picked ingredients that pack a big punch:

  • White onion
  • Medium or long grain white rice
  • Salsa
  • Adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers
  • Olive oil, vegetable broth, and kosher salt

Using a store bought salsa shortcuts cutting any vegetables outside of the onion, and it brings big flavor! The other secret is adobo sauce, which brings a smoky, nuanced undertone. It’s our secret weapon in Mexican-style recipes. Keep reading for why…

Spanish rice aka Mexican rice

How to use adobo sauce

What’s adobo sauce? Adobo sauce is a tomato-chili sauce that brings savory, smoky flavor to Mexican dishes. It’s optional in this recipe, but we highly recommend it. This Spanish rice uses only 1 teaspoon, so it doesn’t add heat! Here’s what you need to know about it:

  • Chipotles in adobo sauce are available in the Mexican food section in most groceries. The can has both chipotle chiles: smoked and dried jalapeños that are rehydrated and canned, and adobo sauce, a purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic, and other spices.
  • This recipe calls for adobo sauce only, not the peppers! Pull out just 1 teaspoon sauce from the can and leave the peppers inside. Each brand of can has different amounts of adobo sauce, so you’ll have to experiment and find your favorite.
  • Refrigerate or freeze the rest for other recipes. You can refrigerate the can for a few weeks, or place the contents in a sealed container and freeze for a few months.

Some favorite recipes with adobo sauce? Try our Enchilada Sauce, Vegetarian Tortilla Soup, Quinoa Chili, or Refried Bean Tacos.

Mexican rice

Ways to serve Spanish rice

Now for the fun part: ways to serve Spanish rice! Of course it’s fit for Mexican style recipes, like a healthy side dish for tacos or to pair with enchiladas. Or, you can make it into a meal in itself. It’s a plant based recipe, so it works for many diets. Here are some ideas to get you started:

This Spanish rice recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free.

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Spanish rice

Easy Spanish Rice

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (37 votes, average: 4.27 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


This Spanish rice is quick to make and packed with flavor! Also called Mexican rice, it’s an easy side dish to pair with tacos, enchiladas, and more.  


  • 1/2 medium white onion (1 cup finely diced)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups medium or long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers*
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste


  1. Finely dice the onion.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salsa, adobo sauce, broth, and kosher salt.
  3. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes until all the liquid is cooked out. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes to steam. Fluff with a fork and serve. 


*This quantity of adobo sauce doesn’t add heat, just flavor. Save the remainder of the can by refrigerating for a few weeks, or place the contents in a sealable container and freeze it for a few months.

  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: Spanish rice, Mexican rice

More great side dishes

There are so many healthy and easy side dish recipes! Here are some of our favorites:

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    Lisa D.
    April 6, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Have you ever made this with brown rice? If so, does anything change besides the cooking time?

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      April 6, 2020 at 5:49 pm

      We haven’t tested this variation, but I assume you’d just need to adjust cook time!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Do I cook the rice first! Or does the uncooked rice get added after sauteeing the onion?

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      October 2, 2020 at 10:45 am

      Hi! You saute the uncooked rice before adding the broth to cook it!

  • Reply
    November 16, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    Can I use beef broth or chicken broth in place of vegetable broth ? Or is there something else I could try ?

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      November 17, 2020 at 10:22 am

      Yes, chicken would work!

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