South African yellow rice is an easy and colorful way to brighten up plain rice. It’s a classic side to bobotie, but works with many other dishes as well.
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Rice is a popular side in many cultures in various different forms. While it’s sometimes left plain to accompany other more heavily flavored dishes, other times it can be the star such as in risottos and paella.
But even as a side, it can be given a bit of a lift. This might be a little more elaborate, like the Persian sweet rice (shirin polow) I have shared before, or a little more simple like this South African side.
What are the origins of South African yellow rice?
Yellow rice is a direct translation of the Afrikaans name, “geelrys”. It comes from the Cape Malay community in South Africa which is named after the Cape of Good Hope and Indonesian/Malay community that developed in the area.
The community initially developed due to the Dutch East India Company exiling enslaved Indonesians resisting the company’s rule to a location on their trade route. But it came to include enslaved people from other cultures, or more broadly Muslims in the region.
As the community evolved, they stopped speaking Malay, and now largely speak Afrikaans or in some cases English, but have kept many traditions from the early days. This includes adaptations of traditional dishes that are now popular across all of South Africa and beyond, including bobotie, sosaties and bredie.
This rice dish is a traditional accompaniment to bobotie, but it is versatile enough that it works with much more.
How to make this yellow rice
Unlike Persian rice dishes with a similar color that use saffron, this is colored yellow from turmeric. Some versions gently toast the turmeric in oil before adding the rice then water, but I’m not sure you entirely need to. So, I’ve gone with the super-simple throw-everything-in-the-pot method and it works perfectly well.
Tips to help it work out well:
- Remember to rinse the rice – this removes excess starch, as well as cleaning it.
- Always use twice the volume of water to rice. This ensures it cooks without excess water or becoming dry.
- Reduce the heat once it comes to a boil to avoid it boiling over or burning.
- Don’t forget the lid – this helps the rice steam evenly as otherwise the rice on the top may not cook properly. Similarly, don’t use a huge pot for the same reason.
Some versions add a little cinnamon in there as well which naturally adds a little warmth. This can be good (I love the cinnamon in arroz con leche) but it may mean the rice doesn’t pair as well with some other dishes so be a little cautious.
As I have written here, this South African yellow rice is incredibly simple, versatile but that bit more interesting than plain old rice. Perfect with bobotie, and so much more.
Try these other tasty rice dishes:
- Creamy, rich saffron risotto
- Japanese mushroom rice (kinoko gohan) with simple umami flavors
- Persian herb rice, typically served with fish (sabzi polow mahi)
- Plus get other side dish recipes in the archives.
South African yellow rice
- 1 cup basmati rice 200g
- 2 tsp oil
- ½ tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp raisins or sultanas/golden raisins
- 2 cup water 480ml
- Rinse the rice well under running water until the water runs clear. Alternatively, put in a pot/bowl and cover with water, agitate the rice with your hands then drain. Repeat at least once.
- Put the rinsed rice in a pot with the oil, sugar, turmeric and raisins. Pour in the water, stir to mix everything together then cover the pot.
- Place the pot over a medium-high heat to bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until all of the water has been absorbed, around 10minutes. Stir to mix before serving.
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