As the Chinese proverb goes ‘The smartest housewife cannot cook a meal without rice.’ And over half the world’s population agree — rice is their staple food and an essential meal maker. In China, Japan and the Philippines, for instance, a meal without rice is usually regarded as simply not a proper meal.
Economical and versatile, rice makes a great base for a huge variety of meals— everything from a budget stir-fry to a hauté cuisine risotto. Rice is now cultivated in over 110 countries, in many different climates and environments. Variety is the life of rice. Five of the most popular are arborio, sushi, basmati, jasmine and black.
The short-grained arborio has a chalky texture which is especially suited to risottos and other Mediterranean dishes. It can absorb large amounts of water while remaining firm. Sushi rice —also short grained — is high in pectin which enables the grains to stick together. Basmati is a long grain rice favoured by Indian cooks for its flavour and for being dry and fluffy when cooked. Jasmine is a soft, delicately fragrant and aromatic long grain rice, the perfect match for many Asian dishes. Black rice is high in antioxidants and fibre. According to a US university study black rice contains more anthocyanin antioxidants than blueberries.
SUPER SEAFOOD RISOTTO
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 each: cloves garlic, small fennel bulbs, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup white wine
1.25 litres fish (preferably) or chicken stock
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Seafood: 1 cleaned squid hood, cut into 2cm rings
150g skinned and boned salmon, cut into 3cm cubes
200g raw prawns, deveined and shelled
Seasonings: 50g parmesan cheese, finely grated
25g butter, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan on medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and fennel and cook until soft. Add the fennel seeds. Cook for a few seconds then add the tomato paste.
Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes until the grains are coated in oil. Add the wine and simmer for 2 minutes.
Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan. Add a ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir until it has been absorbed. Repeat the ladles until the rice is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes.
Add the squid and prawns to the rice, stir gently, then add the salmon. Cook on low until the prawns turn pink. Stir in the parmesan and butter, until melted. Add more stock if necessary. The mixture should be saucy. Drizzle with lemon juice and garnish with parsley. Serves 4.
TRAY-BAKED BUTTERFLIED CHICKEN WITH LEMON RICE
A one-dish meal. Two tablespoons of dried dill leaves could replace the fresh dill. I used 90-second basmati rice.
1 each: large onion, garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon each: cumin seeds, ground cinnamon, turmeric
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1.1kg butterflied chicken
8 large Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
250g 90-second basmati rice or cooked leftover basmati
30g dill sprigs, chopped
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Place the onion, garlic, spices and lemon juice in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken snugly. Add the oil and seasonings and stir well. Place the chicken on top, breast-side up.
Cover loosely with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Arrange the Brussels sprouts evenly around the chicken. Cover and bake for a further 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Lift the chicken onto a plate.
Stir in the rice and most of the dill, mixing well into the pan ingredients. Return the chicken to the pan. Continue roasting — uncovered — for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining dill on top.
Chopped tomato can be added for extra colour. Serves 4-6.
BRAISED VEG & BLACK RICE
A one-dish meal to serve as a main or side. Cut the pumpkin into approximately 2cm cubes.
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups peeled, seeded and cubed pumpkin
freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 red or green capsicum
1 cup peas
2 cups cooked black rice
Sauté the onion in the olive oil on medium heat until softened. Add the cubed pumpkin and seasonings. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is just tender.
Seed the capsicum and remove the ribs. Cut into 2.5 cm squares. Add to the pan with the peas. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in the black rice adding a little water if too dry. Heat through.
Great served topped with toasted cashew nuts, chopped hard-boiled eggs or diced feta. Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side.