All over the world people eat rice, in every culture you can image –right now as you read this there is someone making their dinner with rice, eating rice for a meal or a snack or popping rice in the fridge for use tomorrow.
For centuries many societies existed on rice as their main food source, so it’s no surprise that rice is such a popular ingredient the world over. Did you know that in Thailand you don’t have rice with a meal, but that rice IS the centre of the meal and the other parts are just the accompaniments (like the meat, sauces, soups or garnishes)? I was told that by a Thai girl who lived with me for a year. It’s a very different way of thinking about rice than we do here in the West but we should remember that other cultures appreciate rice differently than we do. But with appreciation comes great recipes and that’s what we really appreciate; all those opportunities to eat a meal stepped in cultural traditions are right at our doorstep these days, with technology helping us to find thear recipes at the push of a few buttons.
Rice is eaten in many countries so we can get hold of many varied rice recipes now from parts of Asia like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as in most parts of South East Asia too like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, etc. Did you know rice is also in lots of European cuisines like in Italian, Dutch, German and Hungarian recipes? Many countries in the Middle East, like the UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have traditional rice recipes too, as do parts of Africa like Morocco, Libya and Egypt. With so many people eating rice for so long it makes sense that there would be a hundred or more basic recipes for rice dishes, and then millions upon millions of variations to these recipes based on regional differences and family preferences.
I’m sure your own family has a rice recipe that only they make, that maybe your mother or grandmother tweaked from a recipe they saw somewhere else. I know my family does, and it’s a rice and tinned salmon curry that my grandmother created when her family went through a particularly frugal period, but you can bet we still eat it now, decades later, when we don’t have financial woes like she did.
Rice is actually a really versatile ingredient so it’s no wonder there are so many variations. Today I want to highlight how useful an ingredient it is, and to show you why so many people the world over eat it and have created hundreds of recipes on how to use it. But you really need to start by knowing how to cook basic rice well. Here is a simple formula to remember: 1 cup of white rice to 2 cups water/stock or 1 to 3 cups liquid when cooking brown rice. You want to boil the rice until the water is almost gone, then turn the heat down very low for a couple of minutes before turning off the heat completely and leaving the rice to finish steaming with the lid on for about 5-10 minutes. Fluff it up with a fork right before you serve it and it’s perfect! It works every time!
Simple additions like cardamom and cloves, salt or stock, bay leaves or herbs while cooking can take your boring old white rice to another level, and you don’t need to adjust the cooking time at all. These types of additions make the rice fragrant whereas additions like saffron and turmeric can change the colour of the rice, such as turning it yellow in these two cases.
Recipes from Around the World
Here are some rice recipes from around the world that you might want to try instead of always cooking that plain white rice.
Kabsah/Machboos – Middle East (Gulf countries like Yeman, Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia).
This rice dish is cooked with plenty of spices and often the meat/chicken is cooked with the rice so everything has great flavour at the end. And it’s totally delicious and simple to make. Sometimes it’s served with eggs on top, and sultanas and pine nuts or flaked almonds can be thrown over the top for serving.
Koshuri – Egypt
This traditional rice dish layers rice, macaroni, green lentils, a tomato-chilli sauce and tops it all with fried or caramelised onions to make an incredible dish. It’s filling, tasty and totally comfort food that you just gotta try at least once in your life.
Pilaf – A world dish
I’ve called pilaf a world dish because after reading this article, I realised that while pilaf might have started in one part of the world, each part of the world took the dish and made it’s own version, and it’s pretty amazing how many different versions of pilaf exist. I always thought it was an Indian recipe, but looks like it has stronger ties to Persia than India though, but you know what? It doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s a simple rice dish to make and it’s super versatile – just pick the cusine you’d like to try and find a recipe for it. Here’s a recipe for Afghani lamb pilaf and one for an Indian chicken pilaf.
Risotto – Italian
Risotto is the Italian way of cooking rice. The Italians stir the rice constantly as they cook it, pouring small amounts of stock in as they go, so the end result is a creamy rice dish. Most of the other rice dishes listed here create a dish where the individual grains of rice are felt, risotto is different. Once you master the basics of a risotto blanco (white risotto) you can add other ingredients easily, therefore never creating the same risotto more than once. Although you might like to stick to the traditional recipes like this mushroom risotto.
Arancini – Italian
Arancini is also Italian, and it’s also risotto, but somehow its a completely different dish. Confused? Well, aranacini are balls of risotto that are fried and served warm with a tomato based sauce. They often have something in the middle like a piece of cheese that melts when the arancini are fried and therefore its gooey and yummy when you eat it warm. A lot of sandwich places seem to sell Arancini, and they usually have them on display next to the lasagnas and the quiches. Try one next time you’re out to see if you like them, then find a recipe to give them a try at home. I’ve only cooked them once and it wasn’t a complete success – but its a challenge for another day.
Biryani – Indian
Biryani is a layered rice and meat dish from India. You layer rice on the bottom, add in the chicken/lamb/goat and then add more rice to the top. Of course there is more to it than that, with the recipe using many beautiful and fragrant spices. There are plenty of recipes available, but the recipe I used to success was a chicken biryani recipe from Ben O’Doughue’s “At Home with Ben” cookbook. But here’s a version of chicken biryani from Lovefood.com (be sure to watch the video so you know how it’s done) and this one is a pumpkin biryani made on a BBQ inside a whole pumpkin (this one’s a neat trick to pull out to impress people for sure!). For my attempts, see the pic at the top of this page.
Paella – Spanish
While the Italians like to constantly stir their rice, the Spanish are much more laid back with their rice. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that is made in big paella pans and the rice is left to cook until a crust has almost formed around the sides of the pan (so minimal stirring is needed). Traditional versions include chorizo, chicken and seafood (or a mix of all three) but these days you can also get vegetarian versions as well. Miguel Maestre (from Channel Ten’s ‘The Living Room’) has a very easy paella recipe which I’ve used with great success. This link also gives you some help in learning how to make the paella, so give it a go and see how easy it is. Just a note – if you don’t have the right kind of peppers, substitute in some chilli instead, either dried flakes like I use or a fresh one sliced.
With so much choice about rice dishes, which will you try first? I like paella and biryani but my favourite is Kabsah or Risotto. How about you?