Great Grains: Why We Love Brown Rice

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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.

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To make sesame seed sprinkle (gomashio), first toast sesame seeds over medium heat in a cast iron pan (recipe after the jump). Photo top: small bowls of short grain brown rice garnished with sesame seed sprinkle and nori.

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Menu Of The Week: An Early April Meal Inspired By Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine

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Clockwise from center top: Short Grain Brown Rice with Bamboo Shoots, Warm and Spicy Cabbage Slaw, Braised Tofu and Vegetables (Click on photo to enlarge).

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I recently acquired a copy of Kansha, an elegant new cookbook on Japanese vegetarian cuisine by Elizabeth Andoh, who is widely thought to be the eminent person writing in English about Japanese food. I’ll review the book in another post, but for today I want to share the menu it inspired which James Holloway and I cooked last night in Palo Alto. In addition to the three dishes in the photo, there was soup with red and white miso, a salad of mixed baby greens with wakame, and we ended with apple pie, which had nothing to do with the menu’s theme, but which I just felt like making because I hadn’t made pie in a long time! Details about this week’s meal after the jump… Continue reading