Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rice University

If you truly become extremely impoverished, you will quickly learn that rice is an important food to you. Buy it when you can. A two-pound bag of rice can keep you alive for a week or two. That’s how I define important at this point.

Rice is a staple food – the staple food – of much of the world. If you aren’t used to eating rice, think of rice grains as tiny little potatoes. Like potatoes, rice dishes taste mostly like what else is in the dish. You do learn to like the taste of rice itself if that’s all you have to eat, though, trust me. And some rice, like basmati rice, is a treat in and of itself.

As you may have learned in school, rice and legumes make a complete set of proteins, so if you have a stock of rice and dried beans or lentils, you’re pretty much good to go for a long time.

There are several kinds of rice that you can commonly find in markets (or food shelves) in the United States. The most common form is white enriched rice. This is rice that has been milled to remove the brown stuff, then coated with vitamins and protein to make up for some of the nutrients that were lost. Incidentally, the reason that it is enriched is because of one of the ways that vitamins were first discovered: it was found that people who ate milled white rice got sick, while people who ate brown rice didn’t[1]. So, from a nutritional point of view, white enriched rice is the least preferred variety for us poor folk, but, boy howdy, it’s a hell of a lot better than no rice at all. Also, some dishes are better with white rice than brown rice.

Brown rice has the hull and germ intact, as opposed to white rice mentioned above. It has a stronger flavor on its own, as you might suspect, and is less fluffy when cooked than white rice. All the same, brown rice is stick-to-your-ribs good, and can be dressed up in any number of ways to make a pretty tasty meal just on its own. This should be a staple in your pantry, as mentioned elsewhere.

Basmati rice is a fragrant long-grained rice that comes in both brown and white varieties, although white basmati rice is far more commonly found in the U.S. Having a bag of this in the pantry is like having Gwyneth Paltrow available as a back-up date to the prom. Or something like that. Anyway, if you’ve never had it, it has a very delicate flavor, goes well with curries and such, and can certainly be eaten on its own.

Arborio rice is mostly used in making risotto, as nearly as I can tell, and I’ve never used it in rice dishes per se. I have used it in making risotto, though, and I love risotto, but this ain’t that kind of entry, so I’m going to ignore arborio rice from now on. However, if that’s all you have, use the white rice cooking directions below and damn the torpedoes[2].

Wild rice isn’t really a type of rice at all; it’s the seed of an aquatic grass-like plant. It has a nutty flavor, and has much more nutritional value than rice. If you have wild rice, I recommend mixing it with the other types of rice mentioned above. It needs about the same water and cooking time as brown rice, so it can be substituted pretty easily into the rice cooking directions below.

- Hulles

[1] Casimir Funk was a Polish-born American researcher who first discovered that people who ate polished rice developed beriberi, caused by a lack of Vitamin B1. He in fact first coined the term ‘vitamin’.

[2] Funny, my spell checker just told me that ‘torpedos’ is really spelled ‘torpedoes’. Hunh. Well, that makes me want to damn them all the more.

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