28 October 2007
Forbidden Rice Pilaf
Every time I walk into New York's Kalustyan's, an international grocery, I'm always entranced by the array of rice displayed along the right side wall. A veritable rainbow of Bhutanese red rice, green Bamboo rice, black japonica, Camargue red, purple jasmine, brown rice, wild rice, basmati, sticky rice, sushi rice, short grain, long grain, oh the possibilities! Of course, I'm always attracted to buy some, but the problem is we aren't really rice eaters. Sure, I stir up a risotto now and again and I'm the first to jump at an invitation for my friend's special Iranian pilaf, but overall we aren't big on the rice front. When my Chinese friend describes the number of rice cookers she has to put into use when her family visits I practically blanch in horror. And yet, everytime I walk into Kalustyan's I'm tempted, which is why I've got four unopened bags of rice in my cabinet.
I decided to put some of that rice to good use, "look, this one's called forbidden rice, it says it was prized by Chinese emperors," I said as I pulled it from the cabinet. P. who lived in Hong Kong, just laughs at me, "they call everything in China 'forbidden,' '' he says. Yes, it's probably a marketing ploy, but the fact is this Chinese rice has a lot of other things going for it. The rice is an heirloom Chinese variety whose black color comes from its whole bran exterior. This means it is high in fiber and the deep purple hue it emits hints at a wealth of phytonutrients and iron, another reason you can find it at many health food stores. But most importantly, the rice is delicious, with a deep nutty taste and aroma. I combined it with soy-glazed carrots and red pepper and scallions, not a traditional recipe, but certainly a delicious one. It's one of those dishes that you find yourself shoveling one forkful after another, scooping up soft little grains and salt-edged vegetables in every delectable bite. At dinner there were no jokes about forbidden emperors, only a nice story about traveling in China, told between approving gusty bites. Which was a good beginning, because we still have three and a half bags to go.
With October 31 around the corner, I can't help but think this orange-and-black dish is perfect for the holiday. Happy Halloween!
Forbidden Rice Pilaf
An heirloom variety of Chinese black rice sometimes called forbidden rice, it is available at many health food stores and gourmet markets (do not confuse it with Thai purple sticky rice, which must be handled differently). Serves 4.
1 1/2 cups Chinese black rice
3 cups water
olive oil, salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
3 tbl soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions (scallions)
1. Rinse the rice in three changes of water, until the water begins to run clear (the water will still be a little purple, but should not be cloudy). Bring the three cups of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Add the rice to the boiling water, cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 35 minutes, until rice is tender and water absorbed.
2. Meanwhile, choose a pan with a tight-fitting lid and heat some olive oil in it. Saute the bell pepper until softened and darkened in a a few spots. Set the pepper aside. Wipe out the pan and heat some more olive oil in it. Add the carrots, stirring to coat them in the oil, then cover the pan with the lid and turn the heat to very low. Sweat the carrots until softened, about 15-20 minutes (you should not need to add any liquid to the pan, but if it looks dry you can add a bit of water). Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium, add the soy sauce and swirl around so that the sauce reduces a bit and coats the carrots. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the reserved bell pepper.
3. When the rice is done, combine it with the carrots and pepper and taste for seasoning. You may want to add a bit of red pepper, or a few more drops of soy sauce. Turn rice out onto a platter. Top with the scallions. Serve immediately.