A simple pot of rice isn’t difficult. Making it flavorful shouldn’t be, either. The solution lies in boldly flavored herb pastes, one of the best and easiest ways to transform an otherwise boring bowl of plain grains into a side worthy of its place in the meal.

With unlimited options for possible combinations of oil, herbs, acid and salt, we found flavor inspiration in the arroz verde, or green rice, of Latin America. At its simplest, it’s little more than cooking long-grain white rice with herbs—especially cilantro, stems and all.

But it also came with a problem. Many recipes call for a mere sprinkle of cilantro, resulting in a flavor too subtle for our taste. Plus, the bright aromas and color of what little was used are dulled by the heat.

We solved this by trading a sprinkle for a full 2 cups of fresh cilantro, and by blending the ingredients in a food processor while the rice cooked. The herbaceous paste—which also included scallions for a slight allium bite—was stirred into the finished rice immediately before serving, preserving the herb’s freshness and its vibrant color.

Finely chopped jalapeño lent heat and piquant freshness, while fresh lime juice brightened the rice. And covering the cooked rice with a towel and letting it rest for at least five minutes helped prevent the grains from becoming soggy and gummy when the paste was folded in at the very end. What we got was a delicious pot of rice, nearly as simple as plain white rice yet far bolder.