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    A Cook's Guide to Rice

    If there was a culinary common thread around the world, rice would most likely be it. 

    On a global scale, rice has a seat at the table in just about every country. There's the creamy arborio rice in Italian risottos, sticky rice in Japanese sushi, jasmine rice as a base for Thai dishes, a blend of spices in Spanish and Caribbean rices, rice to complement and soak up Indian curries...and the list goes on and on.

    With roots that date back to ancient times, rice has also long been a staple in US households, used as a side dish, in soups, stews and stir-frys. But perhaps because of its mainstream popularity and deep-rooted history, it's lost its luster. It's easy to prepare and nice on the wallet, but is it boring?

    It doesn't have to be. If you think of rice as a blank canvas that can be dressed up or down, it can be as creative as you are feeling in the kitchen.

    “It's the perfect canvas for many flavors: Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean,” says Marie Simmons, author ofThe Amazing World of Rice (William Morrow). “Just by adding a bit of curry or turmeric it takes on an Indian profile. Add thin-sliced scallion and it goes well with Asian, stir in grated parmesan, it leans Italian, add chopped tomatoes and it becomes Spanish.”

    And that versatility, the ability of even a novice cook to make rice morph and adapt so easily into whatever flavor profile you put it, makes it a seasonal chameleon as well. The summer table, for example, just begs for a light rice salad or a rice-based dish with fresh greens from the backyard garden.

    What's more, rice is healthy and gluten-free. “Rice has a lot of health benefits,” saysDiane Phillips, author ofThe Everyday Rice Cooker (Chronicle Books).

    Some rice varieties, however, are better than others.

    Healthy Rice Choices

    Many people don't realize just how many rice options are available to enjoy. Some are healthier than others, delivering healthy nutrients and helping you feel full, thanks to the high fiber and protein content.

    1. Brown Rice

    Brown rice has long been a darling of the health food world, but it's still important to point out why.

    Rice is only white because it's processed or refined.

    “Rice doesn't grow white; white rice is originally brown, red, black or purple, but they've rubbed the bran off, the outer coating where most of the fiber is found,” says Kelly Toups of theWhole Grains Council.

    “Around the late 1800s, when roller milling became more popular, they could easily rub the bran off, and that was a status symbol, only the wealthy could afford it," Toups explains.

    Although the nutrition differs among rice varieties, unrefined rice shares some important benefits: minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium; vitamins such as K and B6; and fiber, protein and healthy carbohydrates.

    Stripping the bran means stripping many of these nutrients, turning white rice into empty calories and low-value carbs. Most health experts recommend replacing refined white rice with brown rice.

    To cook: Brown rice takes longer to cook, and with a nutty flavor and chewier texture; it's hard for some people to make the switch. But there are ways to mix it up. Phillips recommends cooking brown rice in broth to add flavor. Toups recommends boiling brown rice like you would pasta, cutting cooking time in half or buying parboiled brown rice for an even quicker version.

    Along with brown, there are many different varieties of whole-grain rice that have just recently made it to the grocery store shelves.

    2. Black Rice

    Once reserved only for emperors of ancient China, black rice used to be referred to as “'forbidden rice.”

    And judging by its superfood-worthy nutritional benefits, it's easy to see why. With a similar nutritional profile to brown rice, it has high levels of anthocyanins, the same healthful substances found in dark-colored berries.

    “We don't usually think of grains bringing color to the table, so it's a neat way to get those nutrients in,” says Toups.

    Available in long and short grain, black rice takes on a deep purple tone after cooking and has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. Because of its unique color, it's a simple, yet chic, stand-alone side dish or base to a meal.

    “I usually do a miso cod with black rice; the flavors of the cod go well and it looks pretty on the plates,” says Phillips. You can mix black and white or brown rice for contrasting colors, use it as part of a stuffing for peppers or squash, or in sweet rice pudding dishes.

    To cook: Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50–60 minutes, until tender.

    3. Red Rice

    With a red husk, this medium-grain rice comes in different varieties with similar flavor and nutritional profiles.

    Bhutanese red rice is a common one that has grown for thousands of years in the fertile valleys of Bhutan, high in the Himalayas. Cargo rice is a red rice imported from Thailand and Camargue red rice is grown in southern France.

    Red rice turns into more of a deep pink after cooking.

    “I'll use it in a pot of red beans and rice,” says Phillips. “It's all one color, but the chewy texture is what I like, and it's good for you.”

    For a zippy side dish, red rice can be used to add texture and color when mixed with black or white rice; used as the base of a Spanish rice; or used in a pilaf. “It has a more savory flavor that goes well with herbs and hot peppers,” adds Simmons.

    To cook: Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50–60 minutes, until tender.

    4. Fragrant Rice

    Common fragrant rice varieties include jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India, both long-grained rices that have a subtle fragrant aroma and flavor released during cooking.

    “People think of rice as a blank slate, but these contribute flavor as well,” Toups says, explaining that they are fairly interchangeable. “They are similar in nutritional profiles.”

    Most often served as refined white rice, both are also found in brown varieties with the same health benefits as brown rice

    “I love the flavor of basmati,” Phillips says. “It has a really good, buttery taste, and I like the fact that the grains separate, it gives me a few more options. I use it in salads and it makes a great base for a curry.”

    To cook (white):Add one and a half cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring water to a boil, add rice, return to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 18– 20 minutes, until tender.

    To cook (brown): Add two cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 50–60 minutes, or until tender.

    5. Wild Rice

    Don't be fooled by the name: Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass that just happens to resemble rice.

    Wild rice is often included in rice blends to add texture, color and flavor. “Wild rice actually has more protein and fiber than brown or white,” Toups says. “It also has a number of other nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and copper.”

    Toups likes it for its consistency. “I think it has a good chew,” she says, “even when it's served chilled. Other rices dry out, but wild rice keeps its chew better, so it can be used in salads.”

    Phillips recommends freezing wild rice in one to two cup batches to throw in soups and stews. “I love wild rice; I love its crunchy outside and soft inside. And it has a wild taste to it.”

    To cook: Add three cups of water for each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 40–45 minutes, until tender.

    6. Sprouted Rice

    As gluten-free diets are on the rise, there are more rice varieties hitting the shelves.

    Toups recommends sprouted rice. “They take the dry, uncooked rice kernels and soak them in water until they sprout,” she says. “It cooks faster than whole grain rice, and they're starting to see that sprouted grains make the nutritional benefits more bioavailable to the body.”

    To cook: Add 1 3/4 cups water to a saucepan for every one cup of sprouted rice. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, but leave the lid on, and allow to steam for 10 minutes. Lift the lid and fluff with a fork before serving.

    7. Bamboo Rice

    Bamboo rice, a green, sticky variety, is popular in Asia and making its way to the US.

    “The green color is from the juice of bamboo plants added to the rice once it's harvested and hulled,” Simmons says. This gives it a subtle herbal flavor, a beautiful color and the perfect consistency for sushi rolls.

    To cook: Add 1 1/2 cups of water for every one cup of bamboo rice to a pot. Bring water to boiling, then stir and cover while reducing heat to low. Simmer for 12–15 minutes, then remove from heat. Allow to stand, then fluff with a fork and serve.

    Rice FAQs

    Which rice is best for weight loss?

    When you're trying to shed a few pounds, it's best to incorporate brown rice into your diet; it’s a hearty, fiber-packed option. When you eat it with other healthy options, including lean protein and leafy greens, you can enjoy a nutritious and flavorful meal that helps you feel full.

    Is basmati rice healthier than brown rice?

    Basmati rice is not quite as hearty as brown rice, although it does feature a soft grain that complements a number of dishes. Basmati rice is available as brown rice, which leaves the outer husk and germ. It also features a nuttier flavor and is healthier to eat than white basmati rice or traditional white rice.

    Is jasmine rice healthier than white rice?

    Jasmine rice comes in whole-grain varieties that are healthier than white rice, which is heavily processed. Brown jasmine rice tends to be lower in carbs and calories than white rice, while supplying potassium, iron and calcium. Black, purple, and red varieties of jasmine rice provide additional health support.

    Is wild rice healthier than brown rice?

    Wild rice is actually a type of grass and tastes earthier and stronger. But if you prefer your rice to have a nutty, mild flavor, you should consider brown rice. If your goal is to increase your protein intake while cutting calories, opt for wild rice, as it has double the protein and fewer calories than the same serving of brown rice.

    “Just like eating a wide variety of vegetables, it's important to get a wide variety of whole grains,” says Toups. “Most people have heard of brown rice, but trying different colors is a fun way to spice it up a little nutrition-wise.”

    Spiced Fish with Mango Salsa and Brown Rice Salad

    “I regularly make this spicy charred fish as the filling for fish tacos,” says chef Donal Skehan, author of Fresh (Sterling Epicure). “Combined with a cooling sweet mango salsa and a brown rice salad, it becomes a hearty yet fresh dinner. Most of the elements can be prepared in advance, but only cook the fish when you are ready to serve.”

    Brown Rice Salad

    1 1/4 cups cooked brown basmati rice

    1 garlic clove, finely chopped

    3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil

    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

    1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped

    6 raw or blanched asparagus spears, finely sliced

    Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

    4 cups arugula leaves, roughly chopped

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Mango Salsa

    1/2 cucumber

    2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped

    4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

    1 small red chili pepper, deseeded and chopped

    Juice of 1 lime

    2 tbsps olive oil

    Sea salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    Large handful of cilantro, chopped

    Spiced Fish

    1 tbsp smoked paprika

    1 tsp garlic powder

    1 tsp dried oregano

    1 tsp cayenne pepper

    1 tsp ground cumin

    1 1/2 lbs skinless cod filet

    1 tbsp sunflower oil

    1. Make the brown rice salad: Allow the cooked rice to cool. Meanwhile, whisk together the garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Add the cooled rice, chickpeas, asparagus, parsley and arugula, and mix until everything is evenly combined. Season with salt and pepper.
    2. Make the mango salsa: Use a teaspoon to scoop out and discard the seeds in the middle of the cucumber. Cut it into dice and add to a bowl with the remaining ingredients (except the last three). Season with salt and pepper and stir well to combine, adding the cilantro just before serving.
    3. Make the fish: Combine all the ground spices in a bowl, and then use the spice mix to dust the fish. Heat a grill pan to medium-high heat; when hot, brush  with the sunflower oil and cook the fish for 4–5 minutes on each side until cooked through. (The flesh should be just opaque.) Use a couple of forks to break the fish into large chunks. Serve immediately with the brown rice salad and mango salsa.

    Yields 4 servings

    Source: reprinted with permission fromFresh© 2017 by Donal Skehan (Sterling Epicure)

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    **These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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