Rice Is Nice
The long and short of the world’s most popular gluten-free grain
Rice, an ancient food staple for billions, is unquestionably the planet’s most important plant. Cheap, plentiful and satiating, Oryza sativa appears in a staggering assortment of shapes, sizes and eye-popping colors and continues to inspire some of the finest culinary creations around the world. In many cultures, this humble, gracefully curved grain symbolizes prosperity, beauty and fertility (hence the custom of tossing rice at newly wedded couples). The verb “to eat” is “to eat rice” in some Asian cultures.
Save for Antarctica, rice grows on every continent in more than 100 countries. Today, the United States produces more rice than ever before, about 19 billion pounds to be precise, with California and Arkansas leading the way. Though other gluten-free grains, like in-vogue quinoa and amaranth, are getting to be the rage these days, rice remains a nutritious powerhouse for a number of reasons. Easy to digest, rice (especially whole-grain brown rice) has the highest content of B vitamins of any grain and provides a healthy dose of fiber, vitamin E, potassium, zinc, iron, complex carbohydrates and amino acids. Pair it with beans and you have a complete protein. In the United States, where rice is not an everyday food for most, allergic reactions are less common.
Not restricted by seasonal availability, ever-versatile rice is always there when you need it for stir-fry, paella, rice pudding or to gussy up a salad. There are more than 100,000 varieties. Conveniently, most fall into three main categories: long, medium and short-grain.
A classification of rice whose body is at least three times as long as it is wide. Long-grain rice generally cooks up light, fluffy and less sticky than other varieties due to higher levels of dry starch amylose. Jasmine and basmati are known as ‘aromatics’ due to the natural presence of 2-acety l-pyroline, a compound responsible for their fragrant taste and aroma.
Best in: Savory dishes, salads, stir-fries, pilafs, curries, Indian, Mexican, Caribbean and Thai dishes, stuffing and fried rice.
Jasmine Thai fragrant rice (also called jasmine rice) has a sweet floral aroma, tender texture and subtle nutty taste. Named after the sweet-smelling jasmine flower, jasmine rice becomes slightly clingy when cooked, unlike other long-grain varieties.
Basmati Hailing originally from the Indian Himalayas, this “queen of fragrance” rice is aged after harvesting to give it a pronounced nutty and popcorn-like taste and smell. Once imported exclusively from India and Pakistan, U.S.-grown basmati is now widely available.
Texmati A cross between American long-grain rice and Indian basmati rice. Grown in Texas, some epicureans say texmati has a stronger fragrance and flavor than other U.S. long-grain rice but less than pure Indian basmati.
Pecan A hybrid rice grown in Louisiana that has a rich, nutty flavor reminiscent of–-you guessed it. Despite the name, pecan rice has no relation to pecans.
Wehani A creation of Lundberg Family Farms in northern California, domestic wehani is a russet-colored (thanks to its brilliant red bran layer), slightly chewy rice that splits when cooked and is redolent of buttery popcorn.
Typically, medium-grain rice is shorter but plumper than its long-grain kin. When cooked, this rice tends to remain moist and tender and sticks together more than long grain but less than short grain.
Best in: Paella, risotto, casseroles, rice and beans, stuffing, meatloaf, rice salads, breads and desserts.
Valencia Classically used in paella, Valencia or “Spanish” rice takes it name from a rice-growing province in Spain. It has a wonderful tendency to absorb the flavors of the foods with which it is cooked. Take care not to overcook it or it becomes too sticky.
Black Forbidden Sometimes called Chinese black rice, the deep-purple color of cooked forbidden rice (attributed to the high levels of melanin in the bran) can add a serious ‘wow’ factor to any meal. Chinese lore says that this rice got its name because only emperors in ancient China were allowed to indulge due to its rarity and nutritional might. With a rich, nutty taste and chewy texture, black rice should be cooked separately and then combined with other ingredients just before serving to prevent discoloring them. Look for black rice at some health food stores and Asian markets.
Black Japonica Like wehani, striking japonica rice was developed by Lundberg Family Farms. It’s a blend of 25 percent Asian black short-grain rice and 75 percent medium-grain mahogany rice. Each juicy grain has plenty of mushroom and nut undertones. Try serving it with strong-flavored meats like wild game.
Arborio This is the most popular Italian rice, primarily used to make risotto. When cooked, the outer part of the grain becomes creamy while the inside remains slightly firm to the bite. Arborio absorbs more liquid and flavors than most other rice types and is a good stand-in for Valencia when making paella. American-grown medium-grain rice can be used much the same way as arborio.
Carnaroli Highly prized Italian plump white rice. Called the king of rice, carnaroli is ideal for making risotto due to its creamy texture, ability to hold its shape and uniform starch release. It can absorb much more liquid than other rice, including arborio which is in the same rice family. Look for carnaroli rice in Italian markets.
Short-grain rice has a wide, almost round body. When cooked, it tends to be quite moist and viscous due to high levels of waxy starch amylopectin. Because the grains stick together, short-grain rice is a practical choice for eating with chopsticks. Also called glutinous rice, short-grain varieties tend to absorb less water and lose their shape during cooking.
Best in: Sushi, desserts, puddings, rice balls, croquettes, and risotto
Sticky Rice Generally an opaque rice with sweet notes and gluey texture, but there are numerous types of sticky rice of various hues, such as red and purple. Brown, whole-grain sticky rice tends to be a little less clumpy. Used in Asian desserts, it’s not surprising that it is often called sweet rice. In Thailand, sticky rice is cooked with coconut milk and garnished with mango for a dessert worthy of an airline ticket.
Sushi Rice A short-grain chewy rice, such as Japanese japonica, with smooth glassy grains. Once cooked, the sticky mass can be shaped into ovals and adorned with raw fish or wrapped with other ingredients in nori seaweed.
Bhutanese Red This heirloom food staple of the people of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has a wonderful reddish hue, soft texture and complex, earthy flavor. Because it’s semi-milled (part of the bran is removed), this exotic, high-altitude rice cooks up fairly quickly.
Versatile rice adds texture and taste—not to mention valuable nutrients and fiber—to a wide range of dishes. Here are two tasty ways to use rice this holiday season.
Wild Rice Stuffing
Use as a stand-along side dish or as a stuffing for turkey or prebaked winter squash. If you don’t have wild rice, try wehani rice.
2½ cups water
1 cup wild rice
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 cup medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup celery, diced
2½ cups button or cremini mushrooms, diced
2 tablespoons curry powder
¼ cup apple juice
½ cup dried cranberries
1½ cups diced apple, preferably Granny Smith
1. Bring water, wild rice and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to low and cook covered until rice is tender and most grains are split open, about 1 hour (not all liquid will be absorbed). Drain well in a colander. Rinse with cold water and transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. As the rice is cooking, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, celery, mushrooms and curry. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Stir in apple juice and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes. Add mushroom mixture to the rice, along with cranberries and apples. Stir to combine.
Each serving contains 279 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 452mg sodium, 59g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 8g protein.
Chicken Fried Rice
Cold cooked rice is the secret to delicious fried rice. Here’s a quick and flavorful way to use leftover rice. Pork loin, ham, tofu or shrimp, if tolerated, can be substituted for chicken.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 cup frozen shelled peas or edamame
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups cooked long-grain rice, cooled
¼ cup gluten-free chicken or vegetable stock
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon Asian chili paste or hot pepper sauce, optional
2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup diced fresh pineapple or canned cubed pineapple, drained
- Fresh cilantro, optional
1. Cut chicken into ½-inch cubes.
2. In a wok, heat oil over high heat. Stir-fry chicken, onion and carrots until carrots are tender and chicken is no longer pink inside, about 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Add peas or edamame, ginger and garlic. Stir-fry over medium heat for 2 minutes.
4. Add rice, stock, green onions, mushrooms, sesame oil, salt and chili paste. Stir-fry until hot, about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in bean sprouts and pineapple and heat 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.