R is for RICE! A most righteous grain, a powerful staple and one of the world’s most important foods. You know it, you love it, it’s rice! “What’s the big deal?” you say. “Rice has been around forever.” Right you are, but it is an exciting time for us to eat rice because there are so many different types readily available to us as well as heaps of fun rice-based products. It’s like a whole new food group!
When I was growing up we only had long grain, American, white rice in my house. That was it. But then one day my mother discovered basmati rice! Discover isn’t the right word; she’d known about it for a long time but had nowhere to buy it in suburban Florida. And then suddenly, a gas station in our town run by an Indian family started to sell a handful of Indian groceries including frozen naan, jars of pickles and curry pastes, and sacks of basmati rice. My mother made a curry and encouraged me to smell the rice and taste it by itself; it was the first time I took notice of rice. I was impressed by how long and skinny the grains were; they didn’t stick together at all. There was a subtle nutty flavor going on. I had the same appreciation for rice when we found jasmine rice at an Asian grocery store and again when I moved to Japan.
For the three years I lived in Japan I ate an amazing amount of rice and never got tired of it. There’s something so comforting, so delicious, so perfect about rice. Of course in Japan most of the rice is traditional, short-grained, sticky white rice. I had to go on a hunt to find brown rice and landed a source at a small farm shop in the country. I figured that if I was going to eat rice all the time, I’d have to change it up and get some extra nutrition at the same time. I was thrilled with the brown rice in Japan, it was awesome!
Revisit brown rice! Many people have a negative, 1972, granola-brown, health food connection with boring ass brown rice. Things have changed! You can now get wonderfully delicious, delicate brown rice in just about any variety. Good brown rice is a bit chewier like al dente pasta. It’s also got a slightly stronger flavor. Best of all its got great nutrition. Perhaps the tastiest brown rice I’ve ever had is from the south of France…seek it out amigos!
Most of the good stuff in rice is in that brown husky skin. By “polishing” rice and removing the bran layer and the germ you are stripping away most of the nutrients. Shame! With white rice there is not a whole lot going on, a little fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorous and iron along with a handful of other vitamins and minerals, but when you let brown rice step up to the plate you can double, even quadruple many of those nutrients. Brown rice also has vitamins A, C and Calcium. It’s way better for you.
Another reason why it’s the golden age of rice is due to all the ingenious ways rice is used today. You can get rice milk, rice ice cream, rice flours, rice pasta, rice paper, rice syrup and don’t forget rice booze! Mmm, I love sake, especially the naturally fermented junmai daiginjo and unfiltered, milky nigori.
We kept it relatively simple on the show. I display a bunch of different types of rice and talk about the basic preparation. For the big cooking demo we change gears and make raw South East Asian spring rolls using rice papers. Make this dish for a party and you’ll be the most popular chef there!
The real value of rice and the reason why it’s a staple food all over the world is because it is a cheap, tasty and easily digestible source of calories and carbohydrates. Rice really does energize the world! No matter what variety of rice you are eating, or what country it was grown in, or what color or shape it is, you are in for some good eats.