Rice seems a simple thing, a staple food that gets the job done, adds essential calories to the meals of many and fuels our bodies along. At its most basic, it’s tremendously simple to make, literally only requiring the boiling of water. It has been cultivated for centuries, nay millennia, and functions as the centerpiece of nearly every meal for billions of people of everyday.
However, that isn’t to say that things can’t get complicated quickly. In fact, rice is a grain of many idiosyncrasies, variants that stem from garden bed to processing to preparation. Across cultures, our expectations of rice differ greatly, including, but not limited to, the type of rice we use, the texture we strive for in cooking it and even ways in which we mill it. Rice, simple as it may be, also has many splendid ways.
All of them are done to achieve specific goals, placate particular tastes, and utilize the resources available. Luckily for us, just about all of these options are readily available to explore in our kitchens and to enjoy the world over because, in essence, we make rice all over the place.
Types of Rice
With rice comes an abundance of choice: long grain, short grain, medium grain; brown, white, wild, red, black, purple; sweet, sticky, savory, scented; and all assortments of the in between. For each whole grain of rice, we are afforded three edible parts—bran, germ and endosperm—and it’s with our treatment of these individual pieces that we create much variety. But truth be known, rice grains as they occur in nature and/or farmers’ fields have every bit the amount of diversity before we get our hands on them.
So, how does one go about choosing the right type for the recipe? There are certain rules of thumb to keep in mind. For instance, the longer the grain the looser the finished product (think basmati), and the shorter the better for sticky stuff (think pudding). The further away from white, the more likely the rice will be whole grain (retaining its bran and germ) as opposed to stripped of nutrients. Therefore colorful rice tends to be a healthier option as when processed, all whole grains end up white and thus, devoid of nutrients.
- Funny thing: Wild rice is typical neither wild nor is it rice. It’s actually a grass seed that is commonly cultivated for sale in our supermarkets. Actual wild varieties still can be found in the United States, either in the wild or in discerning specialty stores.
Preparations of Rice
Depending on where in the world we may be, the approach to rice will be different. For example, a culture that uses chopsticks will obviously value the stickiness of rice as, if nothing else, it will make it easier to move from the plate to mouth. What’s more, some cultures are so ingrained with the staple that it’s milled into flours to create bread, dumplings and sweets. Other cultures, like my native Louisiana, are after grains that will happily stand on their own for delicious dishes like jambalaya.
To be completely honest, there are more ways to prepare rice than can ever be approached in a meager article. The subject is something that broaches full-length, glossy-covered coffee table books, sectioned off by country, type, cooking medium, and whatever else. So, it only makes sense to throw out a dozen or two suggestions for some personal exploration into the matter, and from there, we can all develop our own peculiarities with which to approach this most useful of edible gifts we have been bestowed.
- There are dishes that celebrate rice as the center of attention: rice cakes, rice pilafs, rice casseroles and rice salads.
- There are culturally specific specialties like Spanish paella, Japanese sushi or Tex-Mex enchiladas.
- There are ingenious combinations, a la lentil and brown rice burgers, coconut curry, or pick a bean.
- There are desserts and snacks galore: rice pudding, puffed rice or rice crispy treats.
- There are brilliant innovations, the celebrated secondary functions like rice milk, rice flour, sprouted rice or rice sweeteners.
More from Rice
For many of us, having grown up with rice as a seldom enjoyed side to stew or take-out Chinese, our passion for the grain may be mild to nonchalant, but to settle on such would be a mistake. Why, we haven’t even begun to approach the merry-making spirits it can produce, Korea’s soju, China’s baijiu and Japan’s saki. Rice not only warrants explorations but also, as the plethora of dishes above suggests, it demands we do it. So, with so much rice to sift through, best to get started ASAP.
Lead Image Source: Bangkok Black Rice Salad With Fresh Peach