Oct 252009

I’ve never been a big fan of rice. The way Americans do it is just so… blah. Brown rice suffers even more than the typical white rice. Some inspiration is needed, and fast!

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

We’re not going to even talk about boxed products like Rice A Roni – all I can taste is chemicals, and if you’re daring enough to face the three-inch list of ingredients, you’ll find MSG or its precursors. Yuck! Many people have tried to liven up rice by adding chicken broth or stock, but this too is problematic. If you use commercial broth, you’re left with something unpalatably salty. If you use homemade stock, the gelatin interacts with the grains somehow, leaving a gross, sticky mess that is incapable of absorbing all of its cooking liquid. I have tried many, many times to find a good water-to-stock ratio that will flavor the rice but won’t leave it gummy and waterlogged but have failed every time. Clearly, another approach is in order.

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

First off, I gave up any hope in making plain brown rice interesting. I needed to infuse some other flavors, and fast. So one day at a local health food store, I parked myself in front of the bulk bins and started picking and choosing some different grains to make my rice more interesting and more textured. I was very happy with my chosen blend – brown rice, wild rice, wheat berries, and rye berries – because it definitely had more flavor and it had a marvelous toothiness to it, but I still wanted more.

To find something suitable, I took my cue from a land where rice is actually a staple grain, figuring that they, of all people, would know how to make it interesting. I settled upon some inspiration from spiced Indian rice dishes that I love so well and opted for a pilaf that begins with whole spices. This, too, was better, but it still needed something more. Little by little, I whittled my way down to the solution, adding and subtracting things, until last night, I finally hit upon a solution I loved. Even The Hubs liked it! At long last, rice – and most especially, healthy brown rice – has been delivered from tasteless purgatory.

The finished pilaf: flavorful rice,at last!
Nikon D50

Four (whole) grain pilaf
A Jitterbean original
Serves 4

My favorite grain blend is 1 part forbidden black rice, 1 part Bhutanese red rice, and 2 parts brown basmati rice. Another blend I like to make is 1 part wild rice, 1 part whole-wheat berries, 1 part whole-rye berries, 3 parts brown rice. Feel free to experiment and change up the grains you use or the proportions!
Stores with bulk bins are great places to make your own rice blends. You can stand there, take it all in, and get all inspired! You don’t have to limit yourself to rice: you can incorporate other grains too.
I don’t cook with salt, so I haven’t included it in this recipe. If you like, you can add some when you put the water in the saucepan.
About 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (or ground, if you don’t have a spice grinder)
3/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (or ground, if you don’t have a spice grinder)
1/2 of a large yellow onion, diced
3/4 cup rice and grain blend (see notes above)
1 5/8 cup water
4 saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
About 1/3 of a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, heat cumin and coriander seeds, stirring occasionally, until the seeds begin to pop and are quite fragrant. Grind the spices. (If you don’t have a spice grinder, toast ground cumin and coriander and proceed to step two.)
Add the butter or olive oil to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the ground cumin and coriander. Stir quickly to bloom the spices. Then add the onion and the grain blend. Cook until the onion is beginning to soften and the grains are fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add the water and the crumbled saffron threads and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat enough to bring the mixture down to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid, and cook for 35 minutes. Make sure the liquid is almost completely absorbed, remove from the heat, and let stand, covered for 10 minutes.
Fluff the rice with a fork and stir in the fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.

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