Rice. Is there anything new to say about this almost ubiquitous staple food? I’ve read that rice provides one-fifth of the calories consumed by humans, and when you consider that the world’s most populous countries, China and India, are rice-eating nations, that’s plausible. When I began researching rice, I was vaguely aware that it was domesticated long ago in China (10,000 years ago, in fact) but I had no idea that rice was a significant African crop, where it’s been cultivated for 3,500 years. In fact, the first rice grown in the U.S. came from Africa, and it was African slaves who taught Carolina plantation owners how to grow rice. Today, rice is an important crop in our backyard, California’s Sacramento Valley.
In Japan, the rice-eating country I know best, rice is considered essential, not just as food, but culturally. It’s sometimes said that rice-eating cultures are more communal because, historically, no farmer could grow rice on his or her own, building and maintaining the paddies and intricate water systems took the whole village working together. Consider how rice has been used in Japan, not just as a filling grain, but as an alcoholic beverage (sake), a condiment (rice vinegar), a sweet snack (mochi), a sweet drink (amasake), an essential element in miso, an ingredient in tea (genmai cha), in paper, in tatami floor mats, and on and on.
Finally, to “brown” rice, which I think is a bit of a misnomer. Creamy colored, or beige maybe, but brown, definitely not. To me, eating so-called brown rice ought to be a no-brainer. Right off the top, there’s the added fiber. And remember, it’s not just the outside layer that’s removed to create white rice, it’s the bran as well which is thought to lower LDL cholesterol. Compared to white rice, brown rice is higher in B vitamins, iron and has four times as much magnesium. And to me, it just tastes more interesting. If your family or friends think they don’t like brown rice, mix in vegetables, or wild rice, seeds, nuts, herbs. Make it interesting enough and they won’t notice the difference. Or try basmati or jasmine brown rice, both flavorful on their own, or add brown rice to soup or to rice pudding. Really, jazz it up a bit and the difference disappears. Brown rice does take longer to cook, but the added time is well rewarded. After the jump, I give you my method for cooking brown rice, as well as a recipe for gomashio, the toasted sesame seed condiment which is a great companion to rice. It turns out, there is a lot to say about rice, and in future posts, I’ll talk about various kinds of rice, and the dishes you can make with them.
SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE WITH SESAME SPRINKLE AND NORI
I prefer my short grain rice Japanese style, tender, moist and a little sticky–it’s easier to chew and to digest. I’ve concluded that the reason people think they don’t like brown rice is that they’ve been served poorly prepared brown rice. When undercooked, it can be hard, dry and thoroughly unpleasant. While this recipe is specifically for short grain brown rice, if you want to cook long grain brown rice, use the recipe below but decrease the amount of water by 1/2 cup and the cooking time by ten minutes. Also keep in mind that cooking times vary depending on the type of pot you use, how tightly your lid fits, and how even and intense the heat source. Although rice cooks on its own on the stovetop, keep an eye on it–it’s possible for the flame to go out, for the pot to boil dry, and so on. Be a vigilant cook!
1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice, washed
3 1/2 cups water
pinch of salt
Wash the brown rice well, and drain in a colander. Meanwhile, using a thick-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, bring 3 1/2 cups lightly salted water to a boil. Pour the rice into the boiling water, stir quickly to distribute the rice evenly, cover with the lid. Bring the rice and water back to a boil, turn down heat to a very low simmer and simmer for about one hour. Turn off heat, and let the rice sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir gently up from the bottom before serving. Cooked rice keeps well at cool room temperature for a day or two. If you decide to refrigerate leftover rice, steam before serving, as refrigerated rice tends to dry out a bit.
For the sesame sprinkle:
Often called by its Japanese name, gomashio (goma=sesame, shio=salt), this is a rewarding and easy-to-make condiment. Because, by volume, this recipe has 14 times as much sesame as salt, this condiment lends a lot of flavor while adding only a modest amount of sodium, and nutritionally, the sesame seeds compliment rice’s incomplete protein.
1 cup sesame seeds, washed
1 tablespoon, plus an extra pinch good quality sea salt
Wash the sesame seeds and drain in a very fine mesh colander. Heat a cast iron or similar skillet until very hot, then turn down heat until medium hot. Toss in the sesame seeds, and stirring constantly, dry the sesame seeds. This will take 5-7 minutes. Once they are dry, lower the heat a little more and toss in the salt. Continue stirring 3-4 minutes more or until the seeds start popping, turn a darker brown and begin to smell aromatically of toasted sesame. Turn off heat, but continue stirring a minute or two more so the seeds in the pan do not burn. Grind with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor until about 60 per cent of the seeds are broken. Don’t over grind, you want a seedy texture. Gomashio keeps for at least 2-3 weeks in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
For the nori topping: Buy the seasoned nori which is sold at Trader Joe’s and Asian markets. Cut one or two pieces into thin strips and sprinkle these on the cooked rice.