Rice: Beyond White

From black and red to brown and wild, the versatility of rice
makes it a great ingredient for a light and tasty summer dish.

July/August 2017

By Corinne Garcia


If there was a culinary common thread around the world, rice would most likely be it. On a global scale, rice has a seat at the table in just about every country. There’s the creamy arborio rice in Italian risottos, sticky rice in Japanese sushi, jasmine rice as a base for Thai dishes, a blend of spices in Spanish and Caribbean rices, rice to complement and soak up Indian curries, and the list goes on and on.

With roots that date back to ancient times, rice has also long been a staple in US households, used as a side dish, in soups, stews and stir-frys. But perhaps because of its mainstream popularity and deep-rooted history, it’s lost its luster. It’s easy to prepare and nice on the wallet, but is it boring?

It doesn’t have to be. If you think of rice as a blank canvas that can be dressed up or down, it can be as creative as you are feeling in the kitchen.

“It’s the perfect canvas for many flavors: Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean,” says Marie Simmons, author of The Amazing World of Rice (William Morrow). “Just by adding a bit of curry or turmeric it takes on an Indian profile. Add thin-sliced scallion and it goes well with Asian, stir in grated parmesan it leans Italian, add chopped tomatoes and it becomes Spanish.”

And that versatility, the ability of even a novice cook to make rice morph and adapt so easily into whatever flavor profile you put it, makes it a seasonal chameleon as well. The summer table, to be sure, just begs for a light rice salad or a rice-based dish with fresh greens from the backyard garden.

Because you’re probably trying to look and feel your best during the active summer months, you’ll also benefit because rice is healthy and gluten-free. “Rice has a lot of health benefits,” says Diane Phillips, author of The Everyday Rice Cooker: Soups, Sides, Grains, Mains, and More (Chronicle Books). But some rices are better than others.

Brown vs. White

Brown rice has long been a darling of the health food world, but it’s still important to point out why.

For starters, rice is only white because it’s processed or refined. “Rice doesn’t grow white; white rice is originally brown, red, black or purple, but they’ve rubbed the bran [hull] off, the outer coating where most of the fiber is found,” explains Kelly Toups, program director of the Whole Grains Council (wholegrainscouncil.org). “Around the late 1800s, when roller milling became more popular, they could easily rub the bran off, and that was a status symbol, only the wealthy could afford it.”

Although the nutrition differs among rice varieties, unrefined rice shares some important benefits: minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium; vitamins such as K and B6; and fiber, protein and healthy carbohydrates. Stripping the bran means stripping many of these nutrients, turning white rice into empty calories and low-value carbs.

Most healthy diets recommend replacing refined white rice with brown rice, which studies have shown can reduce the risk of diabetes (Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics 5/14), breast cancer (Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 9/16), inflammation, obesity and cardiovascular health issues (International Journal of Preventive Medicine 3/14).

Brown rice takes longer to cook, and with a nutty flavor and chewier texture, it’s hard for some to make the switch. But there are ways to mix it up. Phillips recommends cooking brown rice in broth to add flavor. Toups recommends boiling brown rice like you would pasta, cutting cooking time in half or buying parboiled brown rice for an even quicker version.

Along with brown, there are many different varieties of whole-grain rice that have just recently made it to the grocery store shelves.

Black Rice

Once reserved only for emperors of ancient China, black rice used to be referred to as “forbidden rice.” And judging by its superfood-worthy nutritional benefits, it’s easy to see why. With a similar nutritional profile to brown rice, it has high levels of anthocyanins, the same potent antioxidants found in dark-colored berries. “In a food study that analyzed the antioxidants of different rices, black rice had the most,” says Toups. “We don’t usually think of grains bringing color to the table, so it’s a neat way to get those nutrients in.”

Available in long and short grain, black rice takes on a deep purple tone after cooking and has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. Because of its unique color, it’s a simple, yet chic stand-alone side dish or base to a meal. “I usually do a miso cod with black rice; the flavors of the cod go well and it looks pretty on the plates,” says Phillips. You can mix black and white or brown rice for contrasting colors, use it as part of a stuffing for peppers or squash, or in sweet rice pudding dishes.

To cook: Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50 to 60 minutes, until tender.

Red Rice

With a red husk, this medium-grain rice comes in different varieties with similar flavor and nutritional profiles. Bhutanese red rice is a common one that has grown for thousands of years in the fertile valleys of Bhutan, high in the Himalayas. Cargo rice is a red rice imported from Thailand and Camargue red rice is grown in southern France. With high levels (although not as high as black) of antioxidants that contribute to the color, red rice turns into more of a deep pink after cooking.

“I’ll use it in a pot of red beans and rice, says Phillips. It’s all one color, but the chewy texture is what I like, and it’s good for you.” For a zippy side dish, it can be used to add texture and color when mixed with black or white rice; used as the base of a Spanish rice; or used in a pilaf. “It has a more savory flavor that goes well with herbs and hot peppers,” adds Simmons.

To cook: Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50 to 60 minutes, until tender.

Fragrant Rice

Common fragrant rice varieties include jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India, both long-grained rices that have a subtle fragrant aroma and flavor released during cooking. “People think of rice as a blank slate, but these contribute flavor as well,” Toups says, explaining that they are fairly interchangeable. “They are similar in nutritional profiles,” she adds. Most often served as refined white rice, both are also found in brown varieties with the same health benefits as brown rice.

“I love the flavor of basmati,” Phillips says. “It has a really good, buttery taste, and I like the fact that the grains separate, it gives me a few more options. I use it in salads and it makes a great base for a curry.”

To cook (white): Add one and a half cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring water to a boil, add rice, return to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 18 to 20 minutes, until tender.

To cook (brown): Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50 to 60 minutes, or until tender.

Wild Rice

Don’t be fooled by the name; wild rice is actually an aquatic grass that just happens to resemble rice and it’s often included in rice blends to add texture, color and flavor. “Wild rice actually has more protein and fiber than brown or white,” Toups says. “It also has a number of other nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and copper.” She likes it for its consistency. “I think it has a good chew,” Toups says, “even when it’s served chilled. Other rices dry out, but wild rice keeps its chew better, so it can be used in salads.”

Phillips recommends freezing wild rice in one to two cup batches to throw in soups and stews. “I love wild rice; I love its crunchy outside and soft inside. And it has a wild taste to it.”

To cook: Add three cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 40 to 45 minutes, until tender.

Other Specialty Rices

As gluten-free diets are on the rise, there are more rice varieties hitting the shelves. Toups recommends sprouted rice. “They take the dry, uncooked rice kernels and soak them in water until they sprout,” she says. “It cooks faster than whole grain rice, and they’re starting to see that sprouted grains make the nutritional benefits more bioavailable to the body.”

Bamboo rice, a green, sticky variety, is popular in Asia and making its way to the US. “The green color is from the juice of bamboo plants added to the rice once it’s harvested and hulled,” Simmons says. This gives it a subtle herbal flavor, a beautiful color and the perfect consistency for sushi rolls.

“Just like eating a wide variety of vegetables, it’s important to get a wide variety of whole grains,” says Toups. “Most people have heard of brown rice, but trying different colors is
a fun way to spice it up a little nutrition-wise.”

 

ET RECIPE

Spiced Fish with Mango
Salsa and Brown Rice Salad

“I regularly make this spicy charred fish as the filling for fish tacos,” says chef Donal Skehan, author of Fresh (Sterling Epicure). “Combined with a cooling sweet mango salsa and a brown rice salad, it becomes a hearty yet fresh dinner. Most of the elements can be prepared in advance, but only cook the fish when you are ready to serve.”

1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1½ lbs skinless cod filet
1 tbsp sunflower oil
For the brown rice salad
1¼ cups cooked brown basmati rice
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
6 raw or blanched asparagus spears, finely sliced
Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 cups arugula leaves, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper
For the mango salsa
½ cucumber
2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped
4 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 small red chili pepper, deseeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsps olive oil
Large handful of cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the brown rice salad: Allow the cooked rice to cool. Meanwhile, whisk together the garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Add the cooled rice, chickpeas, asparagus, parsley and arugula, and mix until everything is evenly combined. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Make the mango salsa: Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a teaspoon to scoop out and discard the seeds in the middle. Cut the cucumber into dice and add to a bowl with the remaining ingredients (except the cilantro). Season with salt and pepper and stir well to combine, adding the cilantro just before serving.

3. Combine all the ground spices in a bowl, and then use the spice mix to dust the fish filet.

4. Heat a grill pan to medium-high heat. When hot, brush the pan with the sunflower oil and cook the fish for 4–5 minutes on each side until cooked through. (The flesh should be just opaque.) Use a couple of forks to break the fish into large chunks. Serve immediately with the brown rice salad and mango salsa.

Serves 4
Reprinted with permission from Fresh © 2017 by Donal Skehan, Sterling Epicure
(sterlingpublishing.com). Photography by Donal Skehan

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