Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Delicious Brown Rice

Ooops, somehow I've let almost a month go by since my last post. Partly 'cause I've been busy answering feng shui questions on my "Fast Feng Shui" blog, and partly 'cause I've been spending most of my free time sewing lately (and reading, but I'm always reading), but mostly because I haven't cooked much of anything very interesting recently.

What I do cook a lot of, no matter what else we might be eating, is brown rice. My husband sometimes eats it twice a day. And because he's a certifiable health food nut, that means we go through many 2 lb. bags of this wonderful stuff:

The last time my parents visited, my dad (who's a potato man, and not super enthusiastic about rice) commented, with some surprise, that the brown rice I'd served was "really good." That's because I've learned a thing or two about cooking yummy brown rice over the years. Here are my secrets:

Brown Rice Secret #1:
Use organic brown basmati rice, not "long grain"! Plain old long grain brown rice looks the same as basmati and costs a noticeable amount less, but if you've been having a little trouble learning to love brown rice, dig into that pocket and splurge for the good stuff. Get basmati. Lundberg Family Farms Organic Brown Basmati is my all-time favorite and our daily grain. It requires much less washing than the stuff from the bulk bin at any healthfood store I've ever shopped at, and cooks up beautifully. The basic recipe on their website works fine, but I can do better.

Brown Rice Secret #2:
When the instructions say to "rinse," they mean "rinse really well." That means put your measured amount of rice into the pot (or your rice cooker insert) and run cool water in to cover by at least an inch. Swish it around with your fingers, then look at the water. It will be either somewhat or very cloudy. Pour out the water (into a mesh strainer is a good idea, to catch the grains that will make a dash for the drain). Now rinse again, at least once. One rinse is never enough. Depending on what rice you are using, you may have to rinse three or more times before the water is acceptably clear. Skimping on this step leads to gummy rice.

Brown Rice Secret #3:
Most cooking instructions will mention a TBSP of butter, and call it "optional." I use olive oil, rather than butter, and consider it essential. Even with good rinsing, the starch in the water is likely to create lots of bubbles that will seep out under the pot lid, run down the side of the pan, and make a mess on the stove. A little oil prevents a nasty cleanup job later. Plus it's tasty.

Brown Rice Secret #4:
I use a little more water than the 2:1 ratio Lundberg recommends. Back in the days when I cooked on the stovetop, I used 2.5 cups water for every cup of rice. Now that I use a rice cooker I use about 4-1/4 cups of water to my standard 2 cups of uncooked rice.

Brown Rice Secret #5:
Use filtered water. If you don't yet have a Britta filter or equivalent, what are you waiting for?
If you want to get really fancy, substitute chicken or vegetable broth for half the water.

Brown Rice Secret #6:
Salt to taste, of course, but I also add to the pot:
~ freshly ground black pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne or chipotle powder
~ 1-2 TBSP of fresh lemon, lime, tangerine, or orange juice (basically, whatever citrus I can get my hands on); a splash of dry sherry is a good substitute if there's no citrus in the house
~ about 1 tsp of some kind of dried herb (my standard is thyme)

And I usually also toss in:
~ about 1/2 tsp dried coriander
~ 3 whole green cardamom pods, crushed with a knife blade so the seed flavor can get out
~ 2-3 fat slices of fresh ginger root

This sounds like a lot to put in everyday rice, but my rice cooker is next to the spice drawer, and when you cook rice as frequently as I do it becomes habit and doesn't take long at all to toss the extras in. Especially when you don't bother to measure anything but the rice and the water and just eyeball everything else.

If you want to get really fancy make an easy pilaf:
Add 1/2 cup of french green lentils and an additional cup of water
and 1 cup of finely chopped carrots and celery

Brown Rice Secret #7
Get a rice cooker. I resisted this for years. I thought a rice cooker was a needless extravagance. Why did people bother? They're pricey, and take up a lot of counter space. Then I got a very nice one for under $40 at Costco, and can't imagine going back. It's just so easy: put all your stuff in the pot (you'll have rinsed your rice really well first, of course!), close the lid, and push the "brown rice" setting. It takes a lot longer than on the stove, but once you get in the habit of remembering to start the rice sooner than usual, you don't have to think about it until the machine beeps at you that it's done. I do not miss popping into the kitchen every 10 minutes or so to check on the rice and see if the flame needs to be turned up or down, or if it's done yet.

If you don't have a rice cooker, bring the covered pot to a boil, then turn town to a simmer and cook until the water has all been absorbed. This will take about 45-50 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If your pot lid is not tight-fitting you could loose a lot of water to steam and the rice will be charred on the bottom, before you expect it to be done. When all the water has been absorbed, remove from heat (still covered) and let sit 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Happy healthy eating!

No comments: