Recipe: Rainbow Rice Palau (Dyed Rice)

Serves 6-8

I could confetti dozens (hundreds!) of newlyweds with all the rice we’ve made for our Adventures around the world. While they’ve all been incredible, I’m here to tell you that Rainbow Rice takes the cake for beauty, novelty, and fun factor.

Want your own festival on a plate? Here are 5 important tips to making perfect Rainbow Rice:

  • Only use one or two colors to dye the rice. Any more becomes a bit… chaotic. Make a theme out of it – pink for a baby shower, red and green for Christmas, orange and red for Thanksgiving, etc.
  • Only dye a little bit of rice (maybe 1/4 cup of cooked rice per color) so that the dominant color is white.
  • Use a lot of dye for a more dramatic effect.
  • To avoid color bleeding: let the dyed rice air out and finish steaming before mixing with the other rice. It helps to dye the rice from the top of the pot, which is naturally drier than the rice at the bottom of the pot. Spreading it out on a plate or shallow bowl also helps.
  • Never dye overcooked or wet rice. The mushy texture will bleed the color all over the rice.
  • This is a great project to get kids involved in cooking. Borrow the neighbors kids if you have to – their excitement will make Rainbow Rice even more enjoyable for you.

FYI – Here’s my inspiration photo, from the blog Djibouti Jones.


For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice
4 cups hot water
1 onion, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cardamom seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper
ghee (or vegetable oil)

For the traditional garnish:

1/2 carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
palm full of golden raisins
ghee (or vegetable oil)


Let’s get started! Borrow a couple of kids, put on a little music and a great, big smile. Drop a spoonful of ghee (or oil) in a pot and heat it over medium heat. Sauté the onions with the spices until soft and fragrant.

Be sure to add salt and pepper.

So far it seems like everyone in the world uses salt and pepper. Perhaps this could be used as grounds for world peace?

Next, drop in hot water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes, or until rice is tender and water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, make the garnish. You’ll love the sweet, crispy combo. In fact, you might want to double the recipe and mix it all up with the rice. Depends how much of a good thing you can handle.

Either way, chop up your carrot and red onion…

… and toss with some ghee or vegetable oil and cook over medium heat until crispy and dark golden brown. It’ll take several minutes. Stir it a few times to cook evenly.

When the rice is cooked, uncover and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom seeds and cinnamon stick. Then fluff the mixture gently with a fork – get the onions all mixed in.

Now for the fun… let’s make a rainbow!

Divide the cooked rice into three bowls – one large and two small (the small ones should be filled with about 1/4 cup of rice – you can always add more if desired)

If you have kids, let them squeeze the food coloring onto the rice – they’ll love it! I was almost out of blue. Hence the splitter splatters.

Next up – red. Add several drops, until you like how the color looks. My red dye was nice and full. (If you add some yellow to the red, you”ll get orange. Pretty!

Mix the colors together and let rest long enough for the food coloring to soak in – about 5-10 minutes. I probably added too much dye. I thought the electric colors might lure a leprechaun with a pot of gold to sit by my Rainbow Rice. Then I remembered we were cooking Djibouti, not Ireland.

Next, sprinkle the dyed rice evenly over the white rice. Try to break it up…  (some people serve it like this, with no further fussing)

Or you can mix it… here’s the results the second time I did it (on plain rice)

And here’s the results the first time I did it (on flavored rice, with the buttery-good garnish).

What do you think…

…do you like neon rice or more muted tones?

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  1. I’ll have a modest start with turmeric and paprika…

  2. elisa waller says:

    I feel more comfortable eating muted toned food..but I am up for a flouresent adventure! This is so fun! I wuv it! It’s loud (in color), its smells good (looks like it does), it’s festive and its a great “family” gathering activity!

  3. I find this colorful and fun, but my little voice opts for “muted” too. I am very influenced by French food after living so many years here. And, I go towards a more “natural” look.

    What a party pooper :)
    I am sure that it smells and tastes yummy! Veggies and Basmati rice. :) Great idea!!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Barbara, I think it could be done really elegant – perhaps with soft earth tones… did you see the link to the inspiration photo? I really liked the orange they used.

  4. Fun and yummy! Maybe a good way to get kids to eat their veggies?
    I did something like this with cupcakes once, you dye parts of the dough different colors, then layer the dough and lightly swirl. When you take a bite out of the cupcakes different colors were supposed to appear. Came out very muted though.

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