Portuguese Tomato Rice

Portuguese Tomato Rice: A Recipe Full of Flavor and Tradition

Portugal is known not only for its rich history, stunning landscapes and extensive coastline, but also for its delicious and comforting cuisine. Among the most popular side dishes in Portuguese cuisine is tomato rice (arroz de tomate), a combination of flavours and creamy texture deeply rooted in tradition, that captivates palates and warms hearts.

The recipe dates back to times when creativity made the most of the simplest available ingredients – after all, simplicity is no excuse for lack of flavour! It is said to have originated in the Alentejo region but has spread to have a place on tables at homes and restaurants throughout the country and beyond, preserving its authenticity and winning over those who try it. Also, for people with dietary preferences or restrictions, it is an option that is vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free.

Tomato rice is a relatively simple dish to make, but it requires a bit of patience and love for traditional cooking. It all starts with a good sauté of onion, garlic, and a bay leaf in olive oil. Then add the chopped tomatoes to cook until they break down. Lastly, add the rice and vegetable broth or water, which are cooked over low heat until the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. In Portugal, this is a traditional accompaniment to fried or grilled fish, or cod fritters (pataniscas de bacalhau), but it will go just as nicely with other seafood, meat, chicken, or vegetarian dishes.

One of the wonders of this recipe is its simplicity and versatility. The basic ingredients are easily found in any kitchen and include rice, canned or fresh ripe and juicy tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, bay leaves, vegetable broth or water, and fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro (coriander). The secret lies in the combination of the components and the attention paid to the preparation, allowing the flavours to meld harmoniously.

Another factor contributing to its popularity is its ability to adapt to different tastes and preferences. We can add extra ingredients such as bell peppers, peas, or other vegetables, or even seafood, to create a custom version of the dish. We can also change the consistency by adding more liquid for a “soupy” or less for a “creamy” rice, similar to a risotto. And don’t forget to serve your tomato rice with a fresh salad and a good Portuguese wine for a truly memorable meal.

Tomato rice is more than just a recipe – it is a celebration of the simple and fresh ingredients that make Portuguese food so special. When you cook and enjoy this and other delicious dishes from this amazing country, you connect with centuries of history and tradition, and can experience a bit of the vibrant and welcoming soul of Portugal.

Ready? Let’s get cooking! 🙂

Portuguese Tomato Rice

One of the most popular side dishes in Portuguese cuisine, tomato rice is an easy, versatile recipe and it uses simple ingredients that we probably already have in the kitchen.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Course: Side dishes
Cuisine: Portuguese
Keyword: Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Hellen | VivaHappy.com


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ onion large, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced finely
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 tsp paprika powder (optional)
  • 4 tomatoes peeled, canned or fresh and very ripe, chopped
  • cup white wine or water
  • 1 cup rice short grain - risotto or carolino (in Portugal), or parboiled
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste concentrated
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock or water, hot
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parsley or cilantro (coriander) fresh, chopped


  • Chop the onion, garlic and tomatoes. Gather and measure the other ingredients, and heat the vegetable broth or water.
  • In a pan over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil with the bay leaf and a pinch of salt, until the vegetables are soft.
  • Add the paprika (if using) and the chopped tomatoes, cook until the liquid evaporates and the tomatoes fall apart a little. Add the wine (or the same amount of hot water) and let it simmer again until thickened.
  • Remove the bay leaf (or leave until the end for a more pronounced flavour), add the rice and tomato paste (concentrate). Mix well and let it cook for a few minutes until it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the hot vegetable stock (or water) and season with salt and pepper to taste.
    ATTENTION: For "creamy" rice, use 3 cups of stock. For a "soupy" rice, use 4 cups.
  • Let mixture simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender, and stir from time to time to avoid burning/sticking to the bottom of the pan. The more you stir the rice, the more starch it will release and become "stickier".
  • Turn off the stove, place the lid on the pan and let the rice rest for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (coriander) and serve immediately.



  • Measure cup used = 240 ml / 8 oz
  • For a creamy rice, use 3 cups of broth or hot water. For a more "soupy" rice, use 4 cups. This amount of liquid may vary depending on the type of rice. Start with 3 cups and, if desired, add more liquid towards the end of cooking.
  • The more you stir the rice, the more starch it releases and becomes "stickier".
  • For a more pronounced flavour from this herb, leave the bay leaf in for the entire cooking time and remove before serving.
  • Some people make tomato rice with brown rice or even quinoa, but I haven't tested these variations yet.

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