Cilantro Mexican Rice

Cilantro Mexican Rice is the best version of Mexican Rice I’ve had; it combines cilantro with Serrano peppers and olive oil in a dressing that makes for a lively and delicious side dish.

Cilantro and Serrano Pepper Mexican Rice

I first made this Cilantro Mexican Rice to take to a friends Mexican themed barbecue many, many years ago. It is unbelievably good; so good that I kept ‘tasting’ it so much that I had to make a second batch for the party…oops!

I don’t quite remember a dish that I’ve had as many requests for, it’s really that good. Don’t let the seemingly innocuous ingredients fail to impress; it is the combination of those perfect ingredients that makes a dish that I can not stop eating. Cilantro Mexican Rice is absolutely addictive; bet you can’t take just one bite either!

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I’ve included this Cilantro Mexican Rice as my contribution to the Food Network’s #SensationalSides that we’re doing for summer dishes. This week it’s all about foods that are perfect for a picnic and we have one big last hurrah this coming Labor Day weekend.

I love making this dish for outdoor events, there is nothing to spoil and it’s meant to be served at room temperature, so Cilantro Mexican Rice is ideal for a barbecue or picnic.

Cilantro and Serrano Pepper Mexican Rice

I first posted this recipe from Bon Appetit several years ago; the photo I used was one of the last photos taken by an old point and shoot camera and I was tired of cringing whenever I saw it.

I love this dish so much and wanted a photo that was more appealing since it is seriously one of my favorite side dishes. Although the ingredients are pretty simple and not especially beautiful; trust that this dish is AMAZING.

When a couple of girlfriends joined me for dinner last summer I made Cilantro Serrano Mexican Rice and expected to do a re-shoot then. Except we ate too much of it. So another do-over later and finally I’ve got something I can live with (until a couple of years from now right?). 

I don’t fashion myself as a food photographer by trade but I know that my photography has improved over the years and some of the dishes on this blog deserve better than I first gave them…this one especially.

One word of caution when making this Mexican Rice with Serrano peppers; be very careful when working with those peppers in this recipe.

Serrano peppers have a higher Scoville Heat Unit than milder jalapeno chiles so either wear gloves or do what I did…except for removing the inside membrane and seeds with a paring knife I used my mini Cuisinart to finely chop the pepper.

They are so strong they it actually hurts when I breathe in the fumes but used in a small quantity they are absolutely necessary for the end result flavor of this dish. Funny thing…it’s not hot at all; they just combine with all the other ingredients and their flavor is an absolute necessity.

The first time I worked with them without gloves, I must have rubbed my eye several hours later and it still burned. I’ve heard that it’s wise to use extra caution as well if you think you will be holding an infant as the Capsaicin on your fingers can burn their gentle skin.

One trick I’ve learned? Capsaicin is oil soluble…rub your hands with a bit of oil before washing them and it should bind the capsaicin to the oil and wash it away. Ever put a pepper in your mouth that burned too much…try rubbing some butter inside your mouth to do the same thing!

Cilantro and Serrano Pepper Mexican Rice

Do try it, Cilantro Mexican Rice is seriously the BEST Mexican rice dish I’ve ever  had. Take my word for it and oh…just to be safe? Double the recipe from the get-go and then start tasting away!

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More great dishes from the Food Network group for your last summer hurrah!

PIN IT! ‘Cilantro Mexican Rice’

Cilantro and Serrano Pepper Mexican Rice Served in a White Serving Bowl
Cilantro Serrano Rice

Cilantro Mexican Rice

A wonderful and flavorful rice dish, Cilantro Mexican Rice is perfect for a summer barbecue. Not your typical Mexican rice, this one is filled with flavors of pepper and garlic and cilantro!
5 from 50 or more votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Pasta, Potatoes, Rice & Grains
Cuisine American, Mexican
Servings 8 Servings
Calories 364 kcal


For the Dressing

  • 1 ¼ cups packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • cup olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Serrano chile seeded, minced

For the Rice

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large white onion chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon Serrano chile seeded, minced
  • 2 cups white rice long-grain
  • 3 ¼ cups chicken broth
  • ¾ teaspoon salt


  • Place all dressing ingredients into food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add onion, garlic, and Serrano chile and sauté until the onion is translucent, 7-9 minutes.
  • Add rice and stir 2 minutes.
  • Mix in broth and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until rice is just tender and broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.
  • Transfer rice to bowl; cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 1/2 hour.
  • Add Cilantro Dressing to rice and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead; let stand at room temperature.)


When I originally made this dish I used a cup of olive oil but too often that has meant having some oil at the bottom of the serving bowl so I’ve cut it down…if you feel your dish could use a bit more, drizzle it as needed after adding the dressing.


Nutrition Facts
Cilantro Mexican Rice
Serving Size
1 Serving
Amount per Serving
% Daily Value*
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Keyword cilantro, rice, serrano, side dish
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. 5 stars
    I’ve been making this for a couple months now but I just had to tell you – this rice is top notch! My husband and three kids LOVE it; they never let too much time pass by before asking for it again. Thank YOU for sharing 🙂

    1. Then you guys will understand why I ate almost an entire batch and had to make more for the party I went to, right? I have to have company when I’m making it because I can’t stop! 😊

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, even the kids!

  2. Can I sub brown rice and just adjust cooking time? Planning to serve hot as a side not cold as a salad.

  3. I made this as a side dish for my son’s “Taco Bar” wedding reception. It was a huge hit. This recipe is now hand written in the family favorites recipe book that my kids will fight over when I’m gone.

    1. Jan I cannot even tell you how pleased this makes me and I understand completely.

      The first time I made this recipe several years ago it was to take to a friend’s birthday that happened to fall on July 4th and it was a Mexican themed party. I made the full recipe and then I proceeded to taste it so much that I had to make it again to have enough to actually take to the party!

      Cilantro and a serrano pepper are on my grocery list now, I’m craving it bad!

      Thank you, you made my day!

  4. I use olive oil and avocado oil interchangeably when cooking. Would this use of the avocado oil be ok in this rice or is the olive oil flavor, like the Serrano chili needed for the end taste?

    1. Candy, the olive oil is indeed a part of the taste as there is a fair amount and it’s the basis for the dressing that is poured onto the rice but that doesn’t mean avocado oil wouldn’t also be acceptable; it would just lend a bit different flavor. Funny you should mention that Serrano chile; I think it might scare people off but this is not a hot and spicy dish, there is just enough Serrano to add flavor to the dressing without adding fire!

      I would certainly give it a try or at the very least maybe try half and half with oils…without experimentation this whole cooking business would be boring so I say go for it…and let me know!

    1. I just thought this would be a nice recipe to bring to a barbecue and not have to worry about a mayonnaise base and spoiling. I had no idea how much I would love it…please do try it; NO ONE has ever been disappointed! And go on…eat half a bowl. It’s a rite of passage. 🙂

    1. The chiles scare some folks but nothing about this dish is hot; they are used just right and add a flavor component without upping the heat quotient. Just perfect with the cilantro…oh my I want to make some more!

  5. I am so glad to have stumbled by – I learned a new trick today – thanks to you! I had no clue oil helped tame capsaicin’s heat – I always thought it was milk that helped…this rice looks and sounds wonderful! LOVE the addition of serrano and cumin!!

    1. I had to test it too; can I tell you how nervous I was about sticking that finger in my eye? But it worked. No pain! This rice is wonderful; it will be my last requested dish. A double batch. 🙂

  6. Barb, I know I’ve said this before BUT I MEAN IT– you need to start a photography class. I saw a facebook conversation the other day in which someone asked for tips over a skype conversation. You should do it! I’ll be your first paying customer in your studio and you can broadcast the session over skype. Email me when you are ready for it. May I request the first topic? White Balance.
    In the mean time I will enjoy your photography and recipes and learn as I go. The dish looks great!

    1. You know I would always help you! I could walk you through how I do white balance in oh…5 minutes? 🙂

      Hint…get a gray card. Photo stores have them. Then call or come over.

      And…you are so sweet. It’s been a slow process but I’m feeling more confident all the time; especially when I see some of those first shots. Oh boy. 🙂

    2. I think you are doing a GREAT job Holly. Practice does make, if not perfect, than much better photos huh? 🙂

  7. Older food photos are interesting, aren’t they? We’ve all come so far! And I’m not laughing — I’ve been there, done that too! Great dish — glad you brought this one back. Thanks.

    1. I used to be like everyone else. Pictures of my kids, photos from vacation we never looked at. This food photography thing was all new and it showed. Now? I love it as much as cooking! Try this dish John…it’s amazing.

  8. I made this recipe and just had to let you know how much we loved it! It was DELICIOUS! I halved the recipe and my husband and I ate it between us! I was eating it from the time it was cooked, at all stages of warmth it was just as delicious. This will be a regular for me! Thanks Barb!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it too Jayne. I don’t think the ingredient list comes close to providing the expectation of how wonderful it is! Though I have starting cutting back a bit on the olive oil; when I made it last week it seemed too much so I’m revising the recipe to read 1/2 to 1 cup per your own taste. Shh…don’t tell OK? I made it for company but noshed on it so much I had to make a second batch. Oops.

  9. Thanks for this recipe! I made a version of it tonight and will be adding it to the regular line up! I actually left out the oil in the dressing as I wasn’t going to serve it cold or as a salad. I added peas and corn to the rice mix when nearly cooked. When the rice was cooked I put the dressing straight in and mixed it up and we ate it as a hot rice dish. It was absolutely delicious like this!

    1. Um, sounds good…go glad you tried it. It’s hard to explain how good it is; it sounds so simple but you are proof! Happy 4th.

  10. I am just getting out of the bad photo stage so I know exactly what you are talking about!! I was looking for a rice dish to make tonight and we love heat here so I think I found just the dish!! Thanks so much for this post. Much foodie <3

    1. I hope you made it and I hope you love it like I do…I have the ingredients and I’m making it tomorrow; any earlier and I would finish it off before the 4th. I’m not kidding!

  11. Just made this last night and absolutely loved it. It almost didn’t make it to the table because I kept “sampling” it 😉
    I blended the dressing ingredients in a magic bullet so it was super easy! The dressing adds such flavor to the rice: tangy, garlicky, spicy! Yum!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and the same thing happened the first time I made it. I remember so clearly thinking, ‘Oh just one more little bite won’t hurt’ but I took several of those little bites!

    1. Cilantro is relatively new to my culinary journey; I’ve only been using it for the past 5 or 6 years. But…I love it too and now plant it each summer so I have my own ready supply. Had planned to make this rice today…but yardwork got the best of me so I’ll probably wait until next weekend when I’m having company otherwise I will eat all of it. In one sitting. (I think I’m joking?). Thanks for stopping by!

  12. mmmm… thanks so much for sending it this to me, it looks amazing and definitely something I would like, since you know, I love cilantro! 😉 This reminds me a little about the awesome rice they have at Chipotle, but with some heat. Thanks for the tips about protecting your hands when working with peppers, and I wonder if different people have different sensitivities. I have worked with jalapenos tons of times and never worn gloves and no problems… but I would definitely wear gloves with these hotties!!!

  13. I first made this a few years back for my gourmet group. It was an immediate hit and it makes regular appearances now at gatherings and dinner parties. People ALWAYS ask for the recipe.

    RE: photography – I agree you’ve come a long way! I consider myself “work in progress,” with my food photography. Funny that some of my best shots have been taken with the camera on my iPhone!

  14. Maybe not but it’s hard to discern because I love it. I understand him not liking something though. I hate green pepper. You can roast it, mince it, bake it…run it through the dishwasher even…and it’s all I taste. When we do meet and you mistakenly decide to cook something with green pepper, I will not complain or say a word…but you will notice the grimace on my face. Now you know!

    This is SO good; I would make it if entertaining because it does make a fair amount and let him taste it; the serrano and cilantro make for such an amazing flavor profile yet it’s the sum of their parts, not an overpowering taste of either one.

  15. I’m doing my best to introduce cilantro into our household. Eric HATES it (thinks it tastes like soap) and he refuses to get it. I have heard that the flavor is not as potent when it has been minced. What do you think?

  16. this was sooooo yummy….the rice alone is great. Used Knorr instead of chicken broth and it made it so rich. It is a keeper…can hardly wait to share it with others!
    thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful recipe.

  17. I don’t think it actually has any ‘heat’ to speak of when eating it, but just know that the flavor would be lacking without it.

    The original recipe from way back that I first used as inspiration called for half the cilantro dressing to be mixed with the rice…but I always kept adding more and more and more…so check the amount you add too if you think the sauce is too much for you.

    I used to be averse to all hot peppers but after 20 years of enjoying them not sure if I’m a good judge of whether something is hot or not…I don’t think so but would love your feedback.

  18. I am sooooo making this! Was worried about the serrano but then read that it actually loses some of its heat during the cooking process so am going to go for it – love the color and can only imagine how good it tastes; and you know, I almost ALWAYS like the sides better than a meat dish!

  19. What a lovely combination, can’t wait to try it soon. Thanks for sharing.

    I started blogging 3 and a 1/2 years ago, and every time I look at the photos from those early days of blogging, I can’t help laughing too. I guess we have all learned so much through blogging 🙂

    1. Thank you for stopping by. It’s a wonderful dish…just finished the rest last night; shed a little tear!

      I’ve been putting recipes on a website for 15 years…but no pictures til I started this blog. It’s a weird combination of strengths to assume a cook could also be a photographer but it’s been fun..I’m a creative sort who enjoys learning something new.

  20. You know how I adore cilantro and this is the perfect recipe for me. Sad to say, I’m still using my point and shoot for my blog. One of these days… baby steps.

    1. I didn’t move to a DSLR until I had no choice. Point and shoot died. Period. If I had insisted on repair, well, I wouldn’t have because the expense would have equated to more than I wanted to invest in an 8 year old camera. I know the last picture it took; will do another before after pic when I make that dish this summer; it looks awful. 🙁

  21. If that’s your worst pic then you started off much much better than me! This rice looks awesome – and I will ditto the caution working with peppers, I’ve learned that one from experience too!

    1. Thanks…and I don’t recall thinking it was terrible then; it’s only in retrospect it seems that way. But then let’s not discuss the dollars I’ve spent to see a change either!

  22. The thing is, it’s not hot at all and most of the serrano is sauteed with onion and garlic so that releases a lot of the burn…but it just has a richness of flavor to that sauce that makes it important. BUT, use a milder pepper, a wimpy one like jalapeno if you want to and yes, wear those gloves!

  23. This looks great! I’m thinking I can adapt it for the rice cooker, too, so I’m VERY excited about that. I’m not sure I can handle the serrano pepper, thought. I’m pretty wimpy when it comes to peppers. Of course, this may be because of the incident when I got jalapeno pepper in my eye (b/c I was stupid and didn’t wear gloves when cutting one).

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