The new rice age

Pop­u­la­tion growth and ris­ing food prices have made rice a more pre­cious re­source than ever. What’s more, says it has en­tered main­stream Jewish cook­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

Afifth of calo­ries con­sumed a r o u n d t h e w o r l d c o me f r o m r i c e , and i n re­cent months, due to cli­mate change, the growth in world pop­u­la­tion and stock mar­ket volatil­ity, prices have es­ca­lated. So rice can no longer be con­sid­ered the bland ac­com­pa­ni­ment to meat, chicken or fish but a pre­cious in­gre­di­ent in its own right.

Rice has played an im­por­tant part in Jewish cul­tural his­tory. its cul­ti­va­tion be­gan si­mul­ta­ne­ously in nu­mer­ous coun­tries over 6,500 years ago, but the Asian rice (oryza sativa) was in­tro­duced to the Mid­dle East in hel­lenis­tic times — grains have been found in a grave in Susa, iran, dat­ing from the first cen­tury CE.

By the sec­ond cen­tury CE, it was cul­ti­vated in Me­sopotamia and Per­sia. the Moros brought rice to Spain in 700CE af­ter con­quer­ing the coun­try, and lo­cal Jews were quick to adopt it as part of their di­etary cul­ture. Jewish mer­chants be­gan to ex­change this adapt­able grain for silks and spices, and es­pe­cially for cit­rus fruits. they even em­braced an an­cient Egyp­tian and Syr­ian tra­di­tion of throw­ing rice at a bride and groom to sym­bol­ise fer­til­ity and good wishes.

in­deed, rice has long been an in­te­gral part of the Sephardi diet along­side veg­eta­bles, lemons, herbs, spices and healthy olive oil — and now patently plays a ma­jor part of the Ashke­nazi diet. So, maybe it is time to re­think that in­nocu­ous bag in your kitchen cup­board.

for per­fectly cooked rice, use bas­mati, which gives a nice fluffy tex­ture. Use 450g (1lb) rice with 600ml (1 pint) wa­ter, stock and salt to taste. Wash the rice a few times to re­move ex­cess starch and leave to soak in fresh wa­ter for half an hour. Drain and put into a good saucepan with wa­ter or stock and salt, bring to the boil and add a tight-fit­ting lid. Lower heat and leave to sim­mer for 10 min­utes. turn off the heat, and leave for an­other 5 min­utes with the lid on. Gen­tly fluff with a fork and serve. of course, you can add co­conut milk or a few strands of saf­fron, chopped fried onion to add vari­a­tion while Sephardic “pink rice” is en­riched with chopped tomato, chopped fried onions, gar­lic and thyme.

or try my un­usual herby mush­room, ch­est­nut and red wine risotto which is cooked in the oven — so much eas­ier than the tra­di­tional risotto, and is made with short grain brown rice — full of good­ness, im­part­ing nutty flavours — health­ier, higher fi­bre and low Gi while still giv­ing that soft, com­fort­ing de­li­cious­ness.

for 4-6 por­tions, use 350g, 12oz short grain brown rice (not bas­mati). heat oven to Gas Mark 3, 170º C, 325ºf. Sweat one large peeled and chopped onion, 1 finely chopped stick of cel­ery and two chopped, well-washed leeks in 1 ta­ble­spoon olive oil with a peeled and crushed clove of gar­lic in a heavy casse­role that can go from stove to oven.

Soak 25g (1oz), porcini mush­rooms or equiv­a­lent, adding 400ml (14fl oz) boil­ing wa­ter. Leave to stand for 8-10 min­utes un­til re-hy­drated. Add 450g (1lb), chopped, fresh mush­rooms to the onion mix­ture with a few fresh thyme leaves, cook­ing for a few min­utes. Drain and chop dried mush­rooms, add the mush­room liq­uid, the rice, 750 ml (1pint, 5oz) stock, and 100ml, 3½fl oz medium dry red wine to the pan and bring to the boil. Sea­son with freshly milled salt and black pep­per.

Cover and place in the oven. Check af­ter 30 min­utes in case it is dry­ing out — you may need to add a lit­tle more stock. At this stage add a tin or packet of ready-to-use chest­nuts (op­tional). Stir gen­tly. then cook for an­other 1520 min­utes. the mix­ture should be creamy and unc­tu­ous.

this dish is a sub­stan­tial meal in it­self but as it is parev, you could add cheese or even leftover chicken for a more sub­stan­tial meal.

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