Rice is nice. It takes to a range of flavoring ingredients so it pairs well with just about any main dish. Plus, the many varieties offer an almost infinite number of possibilities. Rice grows around the world, from the tropics to cooler regions, and varies in flavor, size (long, medium or short grain), texture (dry or sticky glutinous) and color (white, black, red, green). Preparation is different for different rices. For white basmati rice, I have a tried-and-true technique which, friends tell me, always produces perfect rice. For rices with color, follow the package directions. However, enhancing their taste with flavoring is similar for all. First, briefly sauté in oil or butter aromatics such as onion, garlic, ginger or toasted spices. Then add the rice and continue cooking for a few minutes, until the rice changes a bit in color or size. At that point add boiling water or a broth of your choice and cook according to package directions. The sauté technique requires less water than package directions specify so I reduce the water amount by 1/8. For example, if the package asks for 2 cups of water, I will add 1-3/4 cups. Once the rice is done, you can incorporate other ingredients such as toasted nuts or sautéed vegetables. To decide on your additions, cook some rice without additions, according to package directions. Smell it and use your taste imagination to tell you what aromatics to use and what you might add to the cooked rice. Or consult the ever-helpful Internet. Below, I list my favorite additions.
Basmati rice is white and long grain. With its nutty aroma and flavor and distinctive texture, basmati rice has become the favorite of many cooks. It has particular appeal for diabetics as its glycemic index is in the medium range, lower than the index for other white rice, most potatoes and products made from white flour.
Originally grown in India, Pakistan and Nepal on the foothills of the Himalayas, it is now grown in many places. Readers are probably familiar with Texmati rice, a variety grown in Texas. Is it as good as the original from Kashmir in India? In my opinion, no. Basmati rice is delicious if cooked without additions but profits from a simple sauté with onion as in the recipe below. My favorite preparation, especially good in warm weather, adds kaffir lime and saffron to the sauté. Soak saffron threads in 1/4 cup hot water for 10 minutes. To the basic preparation below, add the saffron and 3 large or 6 small kaffir lime leaves to the rice immediately after pouring in the boiling water.
Preparation for perfect basmati rice 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 small onion, minced 1 cup basmati rice 1 3/4 cups water 1 teaspoon salt
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy large pot. Add the onion and cook until lightly colored. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until rice is colored.
In the meantime, bring the water to a boil. Add to sautéed rice along with the salt. Stir once. Cover tightly, bring heat to low and cook for 17 minutes. Turn off heat, keep pot covered and allow rice to rest for at least 10 minutes. Fluff and serve.
Note: You may prepare the rice several hours in advance. Keep the cover on and gently reheat before serving.
BLACK (Forbidden) RICE
Black rice was once considered so precious that only the emperor of China was, by law, permitted to eat it: thus, it was known as forbidden rice. Now, it’s available to all. It’s black with a sheen of purple. Varieties, all medium grain, include a glutinous (sticky) one that lends itself to dessert preparations while the nonglutinous variety makes an impressive and exotic side. Follow package directions for cooking but feel free to add flavoring. One of my favorites: add crumbled nori to the rice while cooking. Other seaweed varieties may be used as well, including arame or kombu. I hesitate to give quantities because there is considerable variation in taste. I suggest tasting the seaweed and, depending on how strong it is, make a judgment. Honestly, you probably will not go wrong. Adding some combination of sautéed red, green and yellow peppers will give you gorgeous color contrasts.
BHUTANESE RED RICE
This is a pretty, medium-grain rice grown in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Its flavor is mild and a bit nutty. Grated garlic and ginger added to the sauté make for great taste and is my favorite. As for final additions, diced dried fruits rate highly. The photos show uncooked and cooked red rice with symbols of Bhutanese Buddhism that are described below. Bhutan is known for this rice but also for unique aspects of its culture. You will find them engaging and thought provoking. First, how does one measure the success/health of a nation? You are familiar with the concept of GNP, Gross National Product, a measure of economic well being. How about Gross National Happiness, GNH? The king of Bhutan, in 1972, asserted that GNH was more important than GNP. GNH measures noneconomic facets of a good life, including psychological well being, cultural and ecological diversity and resilience, and community vitality. The king and government of Bhutan use GNH to design and carry out legislation so that the country is rated highly on a variety of measures that compare the health and well being of nations. Quite a country! Second, Bhutan is a Buddhist country that has lived by Buddhist principles, unlike Buddhist nations such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka which have horrible histories of violence against their citizens. Bhutan has been rated one of the most peaceful nations in the world and the most peaceful in SE Asia. The photo with cooked red rice shows three ubiquitous symbols of Bhutanese Buddhism: the thunderbolt, bell and dagger. Briefly, ignoring the complexity of these symbols, the thunderbolt represents the methods by which to end evils such as ignorance, greed and cruelty and the bell symbolizes wisdom to accomplish those ends. The three-sided dagger is a weapon to dispel evil. The photo of uncooked rice shows a common depiction of the magical penis (see below) along with my favorite additions, garlic and ginger. Third is a liberalized form of Buddhism, established by the Divine Madman or Mad Monk. He came from Tibet to spread Buddhism to Bhutan. Encountering a demon in the form of a dog, he struck it with his Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom, his penis, killing it with one stroke. Thus, depicting his magical penis is a way of warding off evil. Thereafter, he developed a form of Buddhism, deliberately made simple so common folk could understand it. Its liberalized form echoed his libertine and exuberant life. He brought enlightenment to thousands of women through sex, securing the name, The Saint of 5,000 Women. Wine, dancing and general carousing were part of it. No wonder he appealed to so many. Did (and does) such veneration produce a country of moral decadence, anarchy and violence? To the contrary, as the paragraphs above show. His magical penis is idolized at the monastery he established, known as the Fertility Temple, and in paintings and sculpture on houses and other buildings (yes-even schools!).
Bamboo rice is a short-grain rice, light green in color. I gather from the Internet that bamboo rice refers to either of two products. Especially in southern India, it is the seed produced by a dying bamboo shoot that has flowered. Apparently, the bamboo rice available commercially here is white rice infused with bamboo juice. It has a mild, slightly vegetal flavor and sticky texture. It is best made with a vegetable or chicken broth without sautéed ingredients. Cooked, its color is paler than uncooked.