I’ve regularly declared that I hope to send my kids into the real world knowing how to cook nourishing food that can be prepared with few kitchen tools, nominal time and a minimal budget. Well, one obvious place to begin is rice. I know it sounds boringly basic, but you’d be surprised by how many teenagers and young adults do not know how to cook rice — and how many more believe it should be avoided because it is a white food and a bad carb.
White rice is not nutritious; it is stripped of its outer layers including the bran and the germ, leaving it deprived of its nutrition.
Brown, black, red and wild rice, however, are versatile, nutritious and filling whole grains that provide protein, fiber and more than 15 vitamins and minerals. A half-cup serving of brown rice costs as little as a dime. Now we’re talking — a food that is wholesome and easy on the wallet. Healthful eating is happily economical.
Here are all the other reasons I think rice is so nice, and everything else you should know to make it a regular part of your healthful diet.
Rice is a gluten-free grain (and the least allergenic of the whole grains) that provides protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc. It provides long-lasting energy because it is a complex carbohydrate that the body digests slowly. It’s also free of sodium, unhealthful fats and cholesterol.
TYPES OF RICE
You’ll find both short-grain and long-grain at the store. Short-grain rice is starchy and therefore softer and sticker once cooked. It is ideal for sushi, paella and risotto. Long-grain rice contains less starch, so the cooked grains remain separated. It is ideal for everything other than sushi, paella and risotto including saucy dishes, curries and pilafs. Beyond size, there are several rice varieties:
• Brown rice is usually sold hulled, which means its outer layer is removed. The germ, bran and endosperm all remain intact the way they are found in nature, making it a whole grain.
• Red rice is nutritionally similar to brown rice. It has a nutty flavor and adds a bright color to the plate. Cook and use it as you would brown rice. Red rice should not be confused with red yeast rice, which is an extract from rice used by some integrative medical practitioners to lower cholesterol.
• Jasmine and basmati varieties can be processed like any white rice or can be sold as unprocessed brown rice. Both types appear fairly white, so be sure to choose the brown basmati or brown jasmine for nutritional content.
• Wild rice is higher in protein, vitamin A and folic acid, and lower in carbohydrates and a few minerals than brown. Wild rice is technically a grass, although it is categorized and cooked as a whole grain.
• Black “forbidden” rice is generally grown in China and has a much chewier, sweeter flavor. The bran layer of black rice contains the same type of beneficial antioxidants found in blueberries.
HOW TO COOK RICE
• Rinse rice before cooking to remove any dust or stray particles. Plan for half a cup of uncooked rice per person.
• Stove top: Use two cups of water for every cup of rice. Bring water to boil, then add rice and a pinch of salt. Return to a simmer, cover, and lower the heat. Do not remove the cover or stir the rice while cooking because this can affect the cooking time or cause the rice to become mushy. Brown or red rice generally takes about 40 minutes to cook on the stove top. Drain excess liquid when the rice is done and let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing and then serving. Wild rice usually requires 3 cups of water for 1 cup of grain and takes 45 minutes to an hour to cook on the stove top.
• Rice cooker: A rice cooker traps moisture and cooks rice evenly. Follow directions according to the model.
• Pressure cooker: Rice can cook in as little as three minutes in a pressure cooker. Follow directions according to the model.
MORE TIPS & TRICKS
• Cook rice in coconut milk for a richer, creamier result, or in chicken or vegetable stock for added nutrition and flavor.
• Make yellow rice by adding turmeric or saffron during the cooking process.
• To transition from white rice to brown, try mixing one part brown with three parts white, and then half and half, until you adjust to the heartier flavor of brown rice.
• Whole-grain rice has healthful oils between its layers and can spoil more easily than white, so use it within six months or refrigerate.
• Soak rice before cooking to make it easier on the digestive system, to make the nutrients easier to absorb and to shorten the cooking time.
• Extra cooked rice can be used in a breakfast porridge, a soup lunch or another dinner.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 29, 2015.