According to Wikipedia (which we all know is the single most accurate and respected source of information in this era) “Genetic evidence has shown that rice originates from a single domestication 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of China. ” So rice has been around, domesticated by people, for at LEAST 8000 years! Rice was spread to Europe through West Asia, then to the Americas by European colonization.
Today, rice is the most important grain in regards to human nutrition, beating out both wheat and corn, as it supplies nearly 1/5 the calorie intake worldwide. One-fifth of all calories eaten anywhere in the world comes from rice. Wow.
And I can certainly see why. Rice is delicious as a side dish and endlessly versatile. It is able to grow in many different climates, in large amounts. Literally any vegetable cooked up and mixed with rice is great, it complements all meats, and you can pour nearly any sauce over it with great results.
It’s awesome in soup, burritos, as a side or main dish, sushi, dessert (rice pudding anyone?), heck on its own with some soy sauce as a snack. Rice can also be ground into flour and used in bread, baking, or as a thickener. Rice paper, noodles, and wrappers are staples in Asian cuisines as well.
Ways to prepare rice
To cook rice, it is typically boiled or steamed to cause it to absorb water. This can be done rapidly in a large amount of water which is then drained off, or more slowly in an amount of water similar to the amount of rice. Once cooked, the rice can be further processed by frying in oil to make fried rice.
Soaking rice before cooking may improve cooked texture, decrease cooking time, conserve fuel, minimize exposure to high temperature, and reduce stickiness.
Electric rice cookers are also very popular in Asian countries and increasingly so in the US. This is one of my favorite ways to make rice; you simply add 2x the amount of water (ex: 1 cup rice + 2 cups water) and flip the switch. You can do whatever else you need to do, and 40 minutes later your rice is ready!
White vs. Brown rice
Rice grains with the chaff removed is what we know as brown rice, and it has the bran and germ still attached. When you remove the germ, you get white rice. If you remove every layer, you have “Musenmai”, a Japanese style of rice, ready to boil.
According to the USA Rice Federation, rice contains no trans fats or saturated fats, no sodium or cholesterol. It is also a staple for those with celiac disease because of the lack of gluten. In 2004 the U.N. declared the International Year of Rice, in an effort to promote awareness of how important a crop rice is and its role in alleviating poverty and malnutrition worldwide.
Vitamin A deficiency is a very real health concern in nations which get the majority of their calories from rice. Research into how to make rice more nutritious led to “Golden Rice“. This rice is genetically engineered to contain the precursor for Vitamin A, beta-carotene. The beta-carotene turns the rice yellowish gold, hence the name.
I recently had a friend tell me that she wished she knew more things to make with rice, because she knows rice is delicious and good for you. So this post is inspired by her, to inspire all you home cooks out there with some Jasmine, wild, or brown rice, and confusion as to what to do with it tonight.
Rice is an excellent side dish, and I’m sure you know many more possibilities than this list, but here are some rice sides ideas.
1. Cream of Mushroom rice: Boil a batch of rice. For extra oomph, use half milk when preparing the rice. Open a can of cream of mushroom soup, and pour over, mix into rice, season with salt & pepper, and serve.
2. Mexican Rice: Prepare 1-2 cups rice, mixing in 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies in place of 1 cup water. Add 1/2 cup corn, and/or 1/2 cup black beans. Serve.
3. Burritos: Rice is a perfect addition to most Mexican dishes. Take a tortilla, fill it with meat (if you want), beans of any kind, cooked veggies, and warm fresh rice. Wrap up and scarf down.
4. Risotto: In a pan, melt 4 tbsp butter. Add 1 cup raw rice, and 1/4 cup chicken broth. Heat to medium, just a simmer, and stir. As stock evaporates, continue adding more in 1/4 cup increments, until you add 1 1/2 cups. After 30-40 minutes, the rice will be soft and risotto-like. Add vegetables while cooking if desired. You can also use cream.
5. Cilantro-Lime Rice: Prepare 1-2 cups rice. When fully cooked, add in 2 tbsp sea salt, 1/4 cup lime juice, and 3 tbsp chopped cilantro. Mix well and serve.
Or, whip up a batch of plain white rice as a base for:
- Stew – vegetable, beef, pork, or chicken. Make it extra thick.
- Curry – as stated in earlier posts, curry does NOT have to be super spicy. It’s only as spicy as you make it. That’s the beauty of cooking it yourself.
- Fish – steam or bake a fish fillet, and add a few veggies on the side for a complete meal.
- Jambalaya – find a good recipe using whatever Cajun ingredients you like and serve over fresh white rice.
- Ratatouille – use this summer-veggie heavy dish to enjoy your bumper crop of zucchini, and serve over rice.
Rice can be included with other items to make a hearty, nutrient-dense main dish. Here are some ideas.
6. Chicken & Rice Soup: in a large pot, combine a few pounds of chicken (bone-in is best for the flavor), a cup or two of diced veggies, a can of beans, and a cup of rice with just enough water to cover with an inch or two. Simmer 30-60 minutes and enjoy.
8. Red Beans & Rice: Cook up a batch of white rice, add Cajun seasonings and sausage if you like, and one can of red beans. Frugal, filling, and delicious.
9. Bean & rice burgers: In a large bowl, combine 1 cup cooked rice (any kind) with 1 can of beans (any kind) and mash together. Add 2-3 tbsp oil, and flour until it sticks together. Shape into patties and cook in an oiled frying pan on both sides.
10. Broccoli cheddar rice: In a slow cooker or pot, combine 1 cup rice, 1 cup milk, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, and 1 cup frozen broccoli. Simmer 30-50 minutes, mix well and enjoy. You can add cooked shredded chicken for a meat eater one pot meal.
11. Porcupine meatballs: a Slovak classic; mix 1 pound ground beef, 1 cup cooked rice, 1 can tomato sauce, and spices (garlic salt, Mrs. Dash, black pepper…) in a bowl. Shape into meatballs, and cook on a cookie pan at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Serve with extra tomato sauce and mashed potatoes.
12. Stuffed peppers: (or zucchini, mushrooms, cabbage rolls, grape leaves…) for this recipe, you take the above recipe for porcupine meatballs, and stuff it into a vegetable. Wrap it in cooked cabbage leaves, pile it onto portobellos, or stuff hollow bell peppers. Bake at 350 for 30-50 minutes, until the outer veggie is tender.
13. Chicken & Rice casserole: the absolute easiest way is to take 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, dice into chunks, and put into a 8×8 oven-safe pan. Mix in 1 cup uncooked rice, 1 cup milk or chicken stock, and 1 cup diced vegetables. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 1 hour, uncover and sprinkle with cheese and bake another 5 minutes until crisp.
14. Sushi: as my salmon nigiri post shows, even an unskilled cook can manage an attempt at sushi. Prepare the white rice with vinegar and spices, and cover with fish of your choice. Seaweed optional.
15. Rice pudding: a classic dessert with endless variations, you can make this stove-top or in the oven. The basics are: simmer rice in milk 30-60 minutes, stirring regularly. Add cinnamon, sugar, any other sweeteners or flavorings (like almond extract, vanilla, maple syrup) and possibly eggs, chill and serve sprinkled with cinnamon.
And there you have it, one of the most versatile grains in the known world, with over 15 ideas of how to cook with it tonight. If you have unique ideas not mentioned here, please feel free to share!