Pesto Rice – A Couple Cooks


Pesto rice is a simple way to dress up the classic side dish! Swirl in pesto and lemon juice for a fresh, herbaceous twist.

Pesto Rice

Got pesto? Or in need of a quick and tasty side dish? Try pesto rice! Boil a pot of white rice, then instead of flavoring it with butter, swirl in basil and lemon juice pesto instead. It gives it a bright, herbaceous twist that’s perfect for pairing with all types of mains, from chicken to fish to vegetarian dinners. Once you’ve tried this trick once, there’s no need to measure!

Ingredient notes for pesto rice

Pesto rice is one of those recipes you can make once, then make on repeat for years to come. Make it first with the quantities in the recipe below, then you can eyeball it and use quantities of pesto and lemon juice to your liking. Here are some notes on the ingredients:

  • Dry white rice: White rice is best for pesto rice, since brown rice has a stronger, nuttier flavor that competes with the pesto.
  • Basil pesto: Homemade basil pesto has the best color and flavor; if you can try refrigerated fresh pesto from your local grocery (see below).
  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice is essential here, so don’t leave it out! It really brightens up the flavors, especially if you’re using purchased pesto.
  • Kosher salt: You’ll use a little salt here, and the amount will depend on the saltiness of your pesto.
Basil Pesto Recipe

Homemade vs purchased pesto

Pesto rice tastes and looks best with homemade basil pesto. We know, it’s not always possible to have fresh basil and time to make pesto homemade. So you’re using purchased pesto, here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Homemade pesto has the best flavor and bright green color. Make a batch of Basil Pesto if you can. Or try Arugula Pesto or Kale Pesto, which have a slightly spicier flavor.
  • Jarred pesto brands vary greatly in flavor: and a spritz of lemon juice can help! Each different brand has a different salt and acid level. Some taste very bitter and acidic, which can overwhelm a dish: so find a brand you love! Adding a spritz of fresh lemon juice can help to improve the flavor, and you can add more to taste depending on your pesto brand.
  • Or, try refrigerated fresh pesto from the produce section. This type of pesto, often sold in tubes, tends to have better flavor than pesto in jars.

Honestly, we don’t have a favorite pesto brand (and we’ve tried many). So let us know if you do in the comments below!

Pesto Rice

Tips for pesto rice

Pesto rice is so simple, but we do know that often rice can trip up even the most experienced of home cooks! It’s easy to overcook rice and it ends up in a gluey mess, or undercook it and it’s crunchy and inedible. Here are a few tips for cooking pesto rice to a perfect pot of fluffy grains:

  • Rinse the rice. Rinsing rice removes starch from the outside of the grains. This prevents getting a gooey, sticky, gummy pot of rice. It really does make a difference!
  • Allow the pot to stand for 10 minutes after cooking. This rest time is crucial because it steams the rice, letting the water become fully absorbed into each grain.
  • Fluff the rice and add flavorings. You can add flavors to taste, or use the quantities in the recipe below. We like 6 tablespoons pesto for a pot of 1 cup dry rice, but adjust to your liking.

Leftover storage

Pesto rice tastes the best the day of serving, but leftovers also keep well. Store leftover pesto rice refrigerated for up to 5 days; reheat gently on the stovetop with a small splash of water. You may need to add an additional pinch or two of salt or spritz of lemon juice.

Dietary notes

As written in the recipe below, this pesto rice recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free. For vegan, simply make a batch of Vegan Pesto. It uses a secret ingredient (miso!) to stand in for the salty, savory flavor of Parmesan cheese.

Pesto Rice

Ways to serve pesto rice

Pesto rice is versatile and pairs with many Mediterranean-style dinners from chicken to seafood to plant-based dinners.

More pesto recipes

This pesto rice recipe is one of a list of many recipes with pesto you can try! Here are a few more ways to use up pesto:

This pesto rice recipe is…

Vegetarian and gluten-free. For vegan and dairy-free, use vegan pesto.


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Pesto rice is a simple way to dress up the classic side dish! Swirl in pesto and lemon juice for a fresh, herbaceous twist.

  • 1 cup dry white rice
  • 6 tablespoons basil pesto, purchased or homemade*
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

  1. Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse it under cold water, then drain and shake dry.
  2. Place the rice in a saucepan with 1 ½ cups water and ¼ teaspoon of the kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer 12 to 15 minutes, until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat, cover and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir in the pesto and lemon juice. Taste and add ¼ teaspoon salt if necessary or more lemon juice (amounts will vary based on whether you’re using purchased pesto). Serve immediately or store leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days; reheat gently on the stovetop with a tablespoon of water.


*The flavor and color are best with homemade basil pesto. If basil is not in season, look for fresh pesto that’s refrigerated in the produce section (often found in tubes) for better flavor than jarred. Or, use a jarred pesto you love!

  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian


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