Rice is nice — nice for your body, that is.
This edible seed of a cereal grass is an excellent source of body fuel, with lots of nutrients. It’s low in calories (about 100 calories per 1/2 cup serving), low in fat, cholesterol- and sodium-free, and high in complex carbohydrates.
Brown (unpolished) rice also contains naturally occurring iron, niacin and thiamin. White (polished) rice is enriched with these nutrients. Both contain fiber, though brown rice has more of it.
Rice is either long-, medium- or short-grained. The longer the grain, the fluffier the rice (unless it’s overcooked). Short-grained rice has lots of starch and will stick together, which is why it’s used for sushi, paella, risotto and rice timbales, miniature drum-shaped rice cakes.
The texture of medium-grain rice lies midway between fluffy and sticky. It usually is added to mixes to give a little bit of "stick" to fluffier rice. Medium-grain rice gets sticky when it cools, so it is not a good candidate for cold salads.
Long-grain rice contains the least starch. When added to soups, it holds its shape without clouding the broth. Long-grain rice also does well in cold salads.
As for cooking techniques, there’s no need for expensive equipment: simply steaming rice in the oven or on top of the stove is just fine.
Or you can simmer rice, which allows you to add flavor while cooking.
Bring the cooking liquid — water, stock or court bouillon — to a boil. Add the rice, along with any fresh or dried herbs and spices. Return the mixture to a fast boil and cover. Simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed.
One way to add variety to your rice menu is to to make pilaf. Pilaf originated in Persia, and is the preferred method of rice cooking in many parts of the world. The basic technique:
1. Sauté the rice in a small amount of vegetable oil or margarine.
2. Simmer in just enough liquid to allow the grains to become tender.
That’s it! You can add fresh or dried herbs, minced garlic or vegetables, saffron threads or your favorite seasoning mix. For 5 servings, you’ll need 1 cup of rice and about 2 cups of water (or vegetable stock). Spray some vegetable oil in a pot, add rice and sauté it for about 2 minutes or until most of oil is absorbed. Boil the liquid, pour it over the rice and allow it to simmer until it is soft.
Some people cook the rice on the stove until it is soup and then bake it, covered, until it is dry.
For more rice information, go to www.usarice. com, the USA Rice Federation’s Web site.
If you’re looking to add more rice to your menu, "Rice and Spice," by Robin Robertson (Harvard Common Press, $12.95) is a collection of 100 vegetarian one-dish dinners made with rice.
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup basmati or long-grain white or brown rice
2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely diced onions
1. Wash rice thoroughly under cold water. Drain and place in nonreactive bowl. Add 2 cups water, cover and allow to soak 20 minutes.
2. Heat oil in sauté pan. Sauté onions until soft, but not golden. Add rice and soaking water and bring to fast boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, or until mixture is soupy.
3. Cover and allow to cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
4. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.
Variations: Parsley Pilaf: Use vegetable or chicken stock rather than water. Add 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley or fresh cilantro while sautéing onions. RedPepper and Tomato Pilaf: Use vegetable or chicken stock rather than water.
Add 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes while sautéing onions. When ready to coverpartially cooked rice, stir in 1/2 cup tomato purée. Green Pilaf (Spinach and Mint): Add 1/4 cup thawed frozen finely diced spinach and 3 tablespoons minced fresh mint while combining sautéed onions and soaked rice. Orange and Raisin Pilaf: Omit onions and oil. In medium saucepan, combine 1 cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 cup raisins. Add rice and soaking water. Bring to fast boil, stirring constantly.
Reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Apricot Pilaf: Purée two cups fresh peeled apricots or peaches (oruse commercial peach or apricot purée). Add 1 teaspoon ginger when sautéing onions. Add puréed fruit when combining onions, rice and soaking liquid.
Nutrition data per 1/2-cup serving of basic pilaf made with white or basmati rice: Calories 105 (20 percent from fat); 2.4 g fat(sat.2g, mono 1.4 g, poly .7 g); protein 2 g; carbohydrates 19 g; fiber .6 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 1 mg; calcium 10 mg.
Source: Nancy Berkoff