Kitchen Shrink: Go wild during National Rice Month


“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.” — Mitch Hedberg

This precious grain that has been nourishing populations for more than 5,000 years, and today feeds some 3 billion people worldwide, has been purported to sustain one of the oldest living humans, a Brazilian man who claims to be 126 years old, thanks in part to his daily plate of rice and beans.

Here’s how to get the most out of this versatile seed that is honored in September with a national holiday:

The long and short of it

While there are roughly 40,000 varieties of rice grown around the globe, (except in Antarctica), they are primarily classified into long-, medium- and short-grain groups.

Long-grain typically contains more amylose, a soluble starch, making this type less sticky and fluffier than other rices. In most kitchens in this country long-grain white is the rice of choice, although the brown has a rich nutty flavor and chewy texture as the bran and germ of the seed are intact.

Basmati rice, a super long-grain, flourishes in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, and is the cornerstone of Indian, Persian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Available in both white and brown varieties, its nutty flavor and delicate aroma make Basmati ideal for pilafs and biryani dishes.

Jasmine rice, native to Thailand, has a floral perfume and a soft slightly sticky texture, making it a perfect accompaniment for stir-fries and other Asian dishes. Jasmine rice should be rinsed before cooking to remove any powdery residue.

The most commonly used medium-grains are Japanese sushi rice, which is firm and clingy; and Bomba, the sponge of rices, which absorbs twice as much fluid as long-grains. Since Bomba doesn’t get sticky, it is typically used for Spanish paella. As for short-grains, Arborio, a super sticky, creamy Italian superfine variety is ideal for risottos and rice puddings.

There are also “specialty” rices, including Wehani, an American hybrid of basmati with a rich reddish brown hue and chewy texture perfect for pilafs or blending with other rice varieties. Wild rice, not a botanically true rice, rather the seed of a North American grass is rich, dark, robust and chewy, making a wonderful stuffing for squabs, turkey and other fowls.

Finally, the “forbidden” Chinese black rice is firm yet tender and not clingy, with a deep purple hue making an impressive presentation as a simple side.

Grains with benefits

Rice is a naturally non-allergenic, gluten-free complex carb, low in sodium, fat and cholesterol free, while a good source of protein containing all eight essential amino acids.

White rice is loaded with manganese, selenium, iron, folic acid and niacin, but brown has extra boons, including additional minerals, especially magnesium for boosting bone and immune health, along with four times the dietary fiber as white varieties. While wild rice, although has less mineral content than brown, contains more protein, folic acid, antioxidant-rich Vitamin A, heart-healthy omega-3s, along with a lower glycemic load, making it diabetic friendly.

There’s more, rice is easy to digest and convert into energy, and is a good mood food that triggers serotonin in the brain.

• RECIPE: Seven Vegetable Fried Rice: Whip up this family favorite fried rice, chock full of vegetables as a hearty side dish or add sautéed wild-caught shrimp or seared deep-sea scallops for a fall feast.

— Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked long-grain white, brown or Jasmine rice (about 1 cup raw)
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped broccollini
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 small, sweet onion, diced
  • 12 pea pods, halved
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, chopped (crimini, oyster, shiitake, your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, shredded
  • 1 egg, scrambled
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

— Method: In a wok or heavy skillet heat the oils on medium and sauté carrot, broccoli, pepper, zucchini and ginger. Stir and cook for two minutes, then add mushrooms, onions and pea pods. Cook until tender. Blend in rice, seasonings, then the egg until cooked. Serve with soy sauce, and garnish with cilantro.

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