Rice: the ideal food both for energy and fine dining

Most rice production is in Asia and Africa, but it is also grown in California, Central American and many countries in Europe including Italy, Spain and Portugal.

There are two categories of rice: short grain and long grain.

Short grain rice is starchier and better suited to pudding, risotto, sushi and paella. Long grain rice is drier and remains firmer after cooking. This includes basmati and jasmine rice.

Whole grain rice is called brown rice but there is also red and black rice. Brown rice retains the bran layer, which contains many vitamins,  minerals and fibre that have not been polished off to produce white rice. Red, black and purple rice get their colour from anthoncyanin pigments, which are known to have antioxidant abilities.

Rice is a good source of energy, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folate and vitamin E but is notably low in fibre. Washing rice before cooking dramatically reduces the vitamin content. It is best to cook in just enough water or to steam it for maximum nutrient retention.

Calories vary from 205 calories per cup (250 mL) of long grain rice, 215 calories for whole grain rice and 240 calories for the starchier short grain rice.

Turmeric rice with tomatoes

This method for cooking rice is foolproof. The towel absorbs any excess humidity, leaving the rice dry and fluffy.

  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 10 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves 22 mL
  • 5 tbsp. olive oil, divided 75 mL
  • 1 lemon, peel shaved into wide strips, and fruit squeezed to get 2 tbsp. juice 30 mL
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric 5 mL
  • 2 c. cherry tomatoes 500 mL
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 2/3 c. basmati rice 375 mL
  • 2 c. vegetable stock or water 500 mL
  • 1/4 c. loosely packed parsley leaves, roughly chopped 60 mL

In a medium-sized deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, combine garlic, cardamom, thyme, three tablespoons (45 mL) oil and the lemon peel strips. Turn heat to medium-low and gently cook for five to six minutes, stirring often, until garlic just begins to soften and turn golden.
Add turmeric, tomatoes and 1 1/4 teaspoons (six mL) salt and cook three to four minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to blister, taking care not to break them apart. Add rice, stock and a generous grind of pepper and gently stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover pan with a clean tea towel and seal with the lid, securing towel edges over the lid so they don’t catch fire.
Reduce heat to very low and let cook undisturbed 15 minutes. Remove from heat, leaving the lid on, and let rest five minutes. Remove lid and towel and use a large fork to gently fluff rice and evenly disperse the tomatoes.
Gently stir in lemon juice, remaining two tablespoons (30 mL) oil and parsley. Let rest five minutes more before serving.
Makes four to six servings. From Yotam Ottolenghi.

Rice pudding

  • 1 c. short grain white rice 250 mL
  • 3 c. whole milk 750 mL
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 tsp. salt 0.5 mL
  • shaved peel of 1 orange

Stir everything together and pour into an ovenproof casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 F (180 C) until tender. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Risotto primevera

There are a few essential steps when making risotto. The first is to use a heavy bottomed pan. It is easier to control a constant temperature. Have all ingredients measured and ready before you start. You cannot walk away from the stove for too long. It doesn’t have to be stirred constantly but often.
Rice soaks up a lot of liquid. Add more at the end if the risotto looks too firm. It should be creamy in texture. Don’t add in cold or frozen items. Everything should at least be at room temperature.

  • 4 medium shallots
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • 1 c. frozen or fresh peas 250 mL
  • 6 c. chicken or vegetable stock 1.5 L
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 15 mL
  • 1/4 c. butter 60 mL
  • 2 c. arborio rice 500 mL
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine 125 mL
  • 1/3 c. finely grated parmesan cheese 75 mL

Finely chop shallots, green onions and garlic. Snap the woody bases from the asparagus spears and discard. Slice each spear into four diagonal pieces. Pour the stock into a separate pan and bring to a simmer.
Heat oil and half the butter in a heavy, wide pan. Add shallots and garlic and cook for three to four minutes until soft, but not brown, stirring often. With the heat on medium, add rice and stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes. Once it starts to sizzle, pour in the wine. Keep stirring for about a minute until the wine has evaporated.
Add one cup (250 mL) of stock, letting it simmer, not boil. Keep stirring until all liquid is absorbed, scraping sides of the pan to catch stray bits of rice. Continue to stir and add 1/2 cup (125 mL) of stock at a time once the previous amount has been absorbed. When you pull a spoon across the bottom of the pan and it leaves a clear line, it is time to add more stock. After 15 minutes add the asparagus, green onions and peas to the rice.
Start tasting the rice now. When done, it should be soft, but with a bit of bite in the centre, almost chewy, and the risotto creamy. Overcooking makes it mushy. Continue adding stock and stirring until done. Take the pan off the heat, add half the parmesan and the rest of the butter plus a splash of stock to keep everything moist. Put the lid on the pan and leave for three minutes to rest. Serve with remaining parmesan. From Good Food magazine.

Coconut brown rice

Years ago one of my favourite Calgary restaurants, The King and I, had the best coconut brown rice. I always ordered it. They have since closed. This recipe is as close as I have come to replicating theirs. Serve with Thai curries.

  • 1 in. piece fresh ginger, peeled 2.5 cm
  • 1 c. brown jasmine rice 250 mL
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened coconut milk 175 mL
  • 3/4 c. cold water 175 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 2 mL
  • cilantro sprigs for garnish

Using the back of a large knife, pound the ginger until it becomes bruised and somewhat stringy and releases some juice.
Rinse rice in a strainer under cold running water for 30 seconds then transfer to a 1 1⁄2-quart (1.5 L) saucepan and add coconut milk, ginger, cold water and salt.
Place the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil while stirring with a large spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom of the pan from scorching or burning. Don’t worry if the liquid thickens considerably as it comes to a boil. That is a result of the combining of the fats in the coconut milk with the starch in the rice.
Allow rice to boil for 15 seconds, while continuing to stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until liquid is completely absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Allow rice to continue to steam, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and garnish with sprigs of cilantro. Serves four.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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