Rice that makes you say olé

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FOOD - By Jo­lene Thym DFM Cor­re­spon­dent

Fluffy rice flecked with pep­pers, toma­toes and spices is tasty on its own. But tucked into a bur­rito, piled along­side saucy en­chi­ladas or nes­tled next to grilled steak or fish, Span­ish rice is sim­ply splen­did.

This ubiq­ui­tous dish is sim­ple enough to make at home, if you have the time. But on busy days, it’s in­fin­itely eas­ier to grab one of the many boxed mixes on gro­cery­s­tore shelves. Th­ese mixes come in a wide range of styles and sizes. Some of­fer fam­ily-size serv­ings, oth­ers are pre­cooked pouches for one or two. Its fla­vors are di­verse, too — some are herby or tomato­for­ward, spiked with turmeric or saf­fron, or sim­ply in­fused with chicken broth and red pep­per.

The best mixes turn out fluffy, well-sea­soned spoon­fuls with the fresh fla­vor of spices, herbs, pep­pers or tomato. The worst mixes yield bland, gummy bites — or over-sea­soned, un­der­cooked, tough rice. Pi­lafs are es­pe­cially per­snick­ety, as the pasta is eas­ily over­cooked and tends to ab­sorb fla­vors in­stead of let­ting them shine.

Here’s the scoop on the best Span­ish rice mixes — and the gloppy, salty carbs that should have stayed in the box. Nu­tri­tion de­tails re­fer to 1 cup of rice. Zatarain’s Span­ish Rice Mix The fresh, au­then­tic fla­vor of pep­pers, herbs and spices makes this cumin-for­ward rice the best on the shelf. The mix calls for a can of toma­toes to be added, which gives it great bal­ance. (So add that can to your shop­ping list.) 160 calo­ries, .5 g fat, 400 mg sodium, 4 g pro­tein. (4 stars) Farm­house Span­ish Rice Bold fla­vor and dis­tinct grains of rice make for a win­ning com­bi­na­tion. Bits of red and green pep­per, plus the ad­di­tion of a can of toma­toes make this mix taste like home­made. 260 calo­ries, .5 g fat, 710 mg sodium, 5 g pro­tein. (4 stars) Near East Span­ish Rice Pi­laf Cut the salt and this mix would be near per­fect. It has great tex­ture and a sur­pris­ing dash of heat. 310 calo­ries, .5 g fat, 910 mg sodium, 5 g pro­tein. (3½ stars) Rice-A-Roni Span­ish Rice Gen­er­ous spices and bits of bell pep­per make this pi­laf-style mix of rice and pasta a pleas­ant, wel­come side dish, as long as you eat it right away. The pasta turns gummy when re­heated. 250 calo­ries, 630 mg sodium, 6 g pro­tein. (3 stars) 365 Or­ganic Span­ish Style Rice Pi­laf

Un­der­stated spices and herbs make this rice and pasta mix slightly bland, but it would prob­a­bly ap­peal to young eaters. 220 calo­ries, .5 g fat, 710 mg sodium, 4 g pro­tein. (2 stars) Mar­ket Pantry 90Se­cond Span­ish Style Rice

Too much gar­lic and onion

pow­der de­tract from the oth­er­wise tra­di­tional fla­vor of this heat-and-serve pouch of rice. 210 calo­ries, 3 g fat, 670 mg sodium, 4 g pro­tein. (1½ stars) Seeds of Change Cer­ti­fied Or­ganic Span­ish Style Rice

The ad­di­tion of corn and quinoa to brown rice is a great idea, but this pouch of oily, heat-and-serve rice is dis­ap­point­ingly bland. 260 calo­ries, 4 g fat, 480 mg sodium, 5 g pro­tein. (1 star) Ma­hatma Au­then­tic Span­ish Rice

The cumin in this rice is nice, but the ab­sence of any other Span­ish herbs or spices makes this a poor pick. 190 calo­ries, 0 g fat, 690 mg sodium, 4 g pro­tein. (1 star)

Lund­berg Or­ganic Whole Grain Span­ish Rice

Those who love the nutty fla­vor of brown rice may for­give the overly dry, chewy tex­ture of this rice. But the spice and herb fla­vors are sim­ply lost in the mix. 220 calo­ries, 460 mg sodium, 5 g pro­tein. (1 star) Un­cle Ben’s Span­ish Style Ready Rice

A hit of oregano and good rice tex­ture are not enough to save this pre­cooked rice from a pouch. It just tastes old. 200 calo­ries, 2.5 g fat, 630 mg sodium, 4 g pro­tein (½ a star) Knorr Fi­esta Sides Span­ish Rice

A wacky hit of chile pep­per does not help this sticky mix. It’s one of the worst on the shelf. 240 calo­ries, no fat, 690 mg sodium, 6 g pro­tein. (½ a star) Sunny Se­lect Span­ish Rice Mix

Gloppy tex­ture and a ra­tio of too much ver­mi­celli to rice make for a sad, fla­vor­less mess. 250 calo­ries, .5 g fat, 930 mg sodium, 5 g pro­tein. (No stars) Re­views are based on prod­uct sam­ples pur­chased by DFM or pro­vided by man­u­fac­tur­ers. Con­tact Jo­lene Thym at time­spick­yeater@gmail.com. Read more Taste-off col­umns at www.mercurynews.com/ tag/taste-off.

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