RICE RICE baby!

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I can bet my bottom dollar that there isn’t ONE person alive who has NOT eaten rice in any form or fashion. With over 7,000 varieties of rice grown around the world, that would be impossible!  From the long grain rice of the Americas to the fragrant Basmati rice from India, rice is a staple found in the cuisine of almost every continent.. In Asia, for example, it provides 50 to 80 percent of people’s daily meals, and you know Asia is chock full o’ people! If you think about it, that’s a lotta rice…

rice paddy in Bali, Indonesia

It’s actually a seed of the monocot plant, with the second-highest worldwide production, after corn. The traditional method for cultivating rice is flooding the fields while, or after, setting the young seedlings. Cultivation is well-suited to countries and regions with low labor costs and high rainfall, as it is labor-intensive to produce and requires ample water. Rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain (rice plantations are called paddies). Although its parent species are native to South Asia and certain parts of Africa, centuries of trade and exportation have made it commonplace worldwide.

Personally, growing up with a mother from Santo Domingo means I ate rice…….every SINGLE day of my childhood life!  West Indians are serious about rice! I was always eating beef and rice, chicken and rice (a.k.a arroz con pollo- my pre-vegan days) peas and rice, RICE and rice…(just kidding). Seriously, if rice WASN’T featured on my dinner plate, it was certainly a “stop-the-press” moment 🙂 At least I enjoyed eating it. Shoot, who am I fooling; I LOOOOVE eating rice! Unfortnately, my children didn’t let me carry on Nana’s tradition by feeding them rice everyday. Oh well; more for me!

*smh* Moving along…

sticky rice w/mango

Rice is also an excellent food to include in a balanced diet. Being low in fat, it is suitable to eat for people watching their

weight. All rice is gluten free too, making it the optimal choice for people who cannot tolerate wheat, barley, rye and oats.

Rice (the grain AND in noodle form) can be dressed up with any seasoning or used as a bed for sauces or cooked vegetables. It’s amazing how spices, nuts, dried fruits and herbs also transform rice into extraordinary meals. Additionally, desserts such as rice pudding and sticky rice with mango can display rice’s ‘sweeter’ side. Rice is even processed into milk for those who are lactose intolerant or simply choose not to partake in animal’s milk.

Here’s a description of a few select grains:

(l to r) long grain, basmati, arborio, wild, jasmine

  • Long Grain Rice – This is a standard rice, usually sold white but available as a whole grain or “brown”. This is one of the most popular forms of rice in the Americas and suitable for serving with dishes such as chilli, paella and pilaf. All in all long grain rice is a pretty plain rice.
  • Basmati Rice – Basmati rice is a great accompaniment for Indian food. The rice is fragrant and has a shorter cooking time than that of long grain rice. It’s starchier than other rices, so it should be rinsed several times until the water runs clear. Use Basmati rice to serve alongside curry, or other South Asian dishes.
  • Arborio Rice – These are small pellet sized rice grains and used to make the famous Mediterranean classic Risotto. Risotto rice is extremely moisture absorbent, a creamy texture is achieved by slowly adding water and constantly stirring, about 25 minutes preparation. Risotto rice can be coloured yellow with the addition of saffron or turmeric.
  • Wild Rice – Not technically a rice, rather the product of an aquatic grass native to the Great Lakes. Wild rice has a fantastic nutty flavour and armour, the rice also adds a great colour to the plate. For best effect, consider mixing wild rice with a long grain rice to add colour. Wild Rice has a long cooking time, typically 35-40 minutes.
  • Jasmine Rice – Another fragrant rice similar to that of Basmati rice but with a milder flavor and is used in South East Asian cuisines such as Thai and Malaysian cookery.
  • (Storage tip: To keep rice indefinitely, store uncooked rice in an airtight container in a cool dry place).

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    Here’s my recipe for Vietnamese ‘FRESH-to-LIFE’  Rolls© (from the forthcoming cookbook CULTURE CLASHglobally-inspired recipes by EARTHCANDY GOURMET VEGAN CUISINE):

    (serves 3 as an appetizer, or 2 really, really hefty snackers)

    Vietnamese "FRESH-to-LIFE" Rolls

    *9 rice paper rounds (bánh tráng)-available at Asian markets or check the int’l aisle in your supermarket

    *1 cup of any or all of the following fresh herbs: thai basil, mint, cilantro (I like to use mostly cilantro, with a smidge of mint)

    *2 cups mix baby field greens

    *1 cup carrots, shredded

    *1 cup beets, peeled and shredded

    *1 cup fresh bean sprouts

    *3 stalks scallions, cut into 3″ lengths

    Soak a sheet of rice paper in a large shallow dish of warm water for about 15 seconds, or until pliable, then drain well and set aside on a clean, flat work station. CAUTION: The rice paper rounds are fairly delicate once they’re soaked and softened for use, so be prepared to tear a few in the process of wrapping before you really get the hang of it.

    Place a portion of the fresh herbs among softened rice-paper sheets, arranging in line across lower third of each sheet and leaving 1-inch border on each end. Top with a portion of the greens, carrots, beets, sprouts and scallions. Fold bottom of each rice sheet over filling, then fold in ends and roll into a tight cylinder. Before serving, cut each roll in half diagonally to display the beautiful array of colors within!

    ***Once you’ve figured out exactly how much filling your wrappers can handle, making the rolls is a breeze***

    Try dipping it in my  SOY-GINGER DIPPING SAUCE:

    *1/3 cup rice vinegar         *1/4 cup soy sauce              * 1 Tbsp water                *1 tbsp palm sugar

    *1 tsp each: fresh ginger (peeled & chopped)/ fresh garlic (peeled and chopped)/ scallion (chopped)

    *In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together well, making sure sugar dissolves. Add slices of chili on top for garnish and extra spice!

    (Note: Rolls and sauce can be made 4 hours ahead and chilled. Cover the rolls with damp paper towels and then plastic wrap).

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    Rice is not limited to eating. It’s also used in ceremonies. At weddings, rice is thrown at the new bride and groom after the ceremony. (That tradition has since changed to save the birds’ from choking on the grains, but it’s worth the mention). The custom originated with the ancient Egyptians as a symbol of fertility and good wishes for a bountiful life. Many Asian festivals are centered around rice harvest time and whole villages gather to sing, dance and offer prayers. At a housewarming puja (Hindu for ceremony) I attended, uncooked rice grains were placed in each corner of the home, symbolizing and ensuring everlasting wealth and abundance for the homeowner.

    Here’s a list of other vegetarian rice recipes to try, as well as a fun and educational activity for you to play to cure world hunger-one grain at a time!

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