Have a Rice Day

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Rice is the staple food for two-thirds of the world’s population. While commonly thought of as an oriental food, rice has been grown in the United States for more than 300 years. For many people, the only rice ever tried was white, precooked (minute) rice. What a shame. As with most foods there are several varieties of rice, each having their own unique taste and texture. Different varieties lend themselves to different dishes and cuisines.

Long Grain:
About three-quarters of the rice consumed in America is long grain. This long, slender rice is four to five times longer than wide and when cooked is separate, light and fluffy. Two popular types of long-grain rice are Jasmine and Basmati. Jasmine, also called soft jasmine, has a mild popcorn aroma. It lengthens as it cooks, making a wonderful soft bed for your favorite Thai and other Asian dishes. Basmati rice has a slightly buttery flavor. It stays separate when cooked and is an excellent rice to pair with a stir-fry and other Asian-inspired meals.

Medium Grain:
Medium grain rice has a shorter, wider kernel, two to three times longer than its width. When cooked it’s moist and tender, and slightly sticky. It is used in desserts like rice pudding.

Short Grain:
Short grain rice has a short, plump, almost round kernel. It has a stickier texture and a softer grain after cooking. It is used in paella and many Asian dishes. Arborio and Risotto are popular types of short-grain rice.

Brown rice:
The light brown color of brown rice is caused by the bran, which is rich in nutrients, especially the B vitamins and fiber. It has a nutty taste, chewy texture and works best when paired with strong seasonings and sauces.

Wild rice:
This is actually not rice but a long-grain marsh grass native to the U.S. It is generally paired with rice to make an interesting pilaf because it adds a unique flavor texture and color. For best results, cook it separately and mix together before serving.

Rice has only 100 calories per half-cup serving and just a trace of fat. Brown rice is a good source of fiber, providing 1.6 g of dietary fiber per 1/2 cup cooked. To bring the nutritional value of white rice nearer to that of whole grain brown rice, it is enriched with a minimum of 2 mg thiamin, 13 mg iron, and 16 mg niacin per pound of raw rice. The enrichment mixture is applied to rice as a coating. Therefore, it is recommended that rice not be rinsed before or after cooking. The enrichment and other water-soluble vitamins and minerals would be lost.

Tips for Cooking Perfect Rice:
• Carefully measure the amounts of rice and liquid.
• Read the package for suggested cooking time and follow it accurately.
• Keep lid on tightly during cooking to prevent steam from escaping. No peeking!
• Rice triples in volume—use the right size pots and pans.
• At end of cooking time, remove lid and test for doneness by tasting or squeezing between your fingers to check that it is soft all the way through. If rice is not quite tender or if liquid is not absorbed, cook 2 to 4 minutes longer.
• If cooked rice is still crunchy, add additional liquid, cover tightly and cook until grains are tender.
• When rice is cooked, fluff with fork or slotted spoon to allow steam to escape and to keep the grains separate.

Rice Pilaf Seasoning
Instead of buying boxed mixes of rice, make up this seasoning for rice pilaf. It comes in handy for making the perfect batch of rice that is low in sodium.
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp dried ground sage
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
Stir ingredients together well and store in airtight container at room temperature. Use 2 tsp per cup of rice. For example, to make brown rice you would use 1 cup of brown rice, 2 cups of water and 2 tsp of Rice Pilaf Seasoning. Follow cooking instructions on package.
By Carol (Coughlin) Meerschaert, RD, LDN.

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