Brown Rice: Not Just for Hippies Anymore
Brown rice finally makes its way into the main course.
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: November 10, 2011
In 1969, I ate my first bowl of plain, boiled brown rice, then proceeded to live on it for a week, replicating the diet of a hippie girl to whom I hoped to demonstrate my sex appeal. (It didn’t work.) Twenty years later, brown rice became a minor but regular part of my repertory.
Now brown rice has not only lost its hippie stigma; it has also become sort of de rigueur, though it’s mostly relegated to a dull side dish served underneath or next to something more interesting — stir-fries, stews, chili — a worthy if obligatory “healthful” substitute for white rice.
It need not be this way. There are dozens of brown-rice varieties, because “brown” simply means “hulled but not stripped of bran layers.” Brown basmati has the same nutty aroma as white, with more chew; most brown short-grains release starch, just like arborio; most brown long-grains cook just like “regular” rice; and black, mahogany, purple, red — all those novelty rices are “brown” and can be treated in pretty much the same ways, and those ways are myriad.
Like white rice, all brown rice must be cooked in liquid, but depending on timing and ratio of rice to liquid — plus, of course, what you add to it — the final dish will vary considerably. Add water to cover by about an inch and a pinch of salt to long-grain brown rice, cover, simmer until the rice is tender and dry and you have the perfect base for a hearty salad. Sauté the rice in oil or butter before adding liquid, and you have pilaf. (The toasting results in perfectly fluffy, separate, flavorful grains.)
Things get really interesting when you use short-grain rice and go for something closer to a creamy, porridgelike stew that makes a terrific breakfast (add even more water for congee) or basis for dinner. Or, add slightly less water, cook until the grains burst — this usually takes at least an hour — and you end up with a thick batter for pancakes: no eggs, flour or dairy required.
Or boil it, eat it plain and see if you become a chick magnet.
Garlic and Parsley
Cook 1 tablespoon minced garlic in 2 tablespoons butter for 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups brown basmati (or other) rice and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat and cover. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped parsley, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Garnish: Chopped parsley.
Sausage, Red Peppers and Onions
Use olive oil instead of butter. Cook 1 sliced onion, 1 sliced red bell pepper and 8 ounces sliced or chunked Italian sausage in the oil before adding the garlic. Substitute basil for the parsley.
Shrimp, Scallions and Snow Peas
Use neutral oil (like corn) instead of butter. Cook 1/2 cup chopped scallions in oil before adding garlic. Add 8 ounces peeled shrimp (chopped, if large), 1 cup snow peas, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Garnish: Chopped cilantro.
Fried Egg and Chives
Combine 1 1/2 cups brown rice with 3 cups water over high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and partly cover. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary, until the rice is tender and thick, 45 to 60 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped chives. Meanwhile, fry 4 eggs in 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Serve the eggs over the rice. Garnish: Chopped chives.
Skip the chives and eggs. First, sear 4 bone-in chicken thighs in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes; add 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon minced habanero chili, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, rice and the water; proceed as above. Garnish: Thyme leaves.
Coconut and Molasses
Skip the chives and eggs. Substitute 1 can coconut milk for 1 1/2 cups of the water and add 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut to the rice. Serve drizzled with molasses.
White Bean, Lemon and Tomato
Combine 1 1/2 cups brown rice with 2 1/2 cups water over high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Chill if time allows. Toss with 1 cup cooked white beans, 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup chopped dill, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Garnish: Chopped dill.
Grape and Ricotta
Substitute ricotta cheese for the white beans, grapes for the cherry tomatoes, basil for the dill and 1 chopped small shallot for the garlic.
Broccoli, Pine Nut and Sage
Steam 2 cups broccoli florets until just tender, about 5 minutes; shock in ice water, then drain and chop. Substitute 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts for the white beans, the broccoli for the cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon chopped sage for the dill.
Parmesan and Scallions
Combine 1 1/2 cups brown rice with 3 cups water over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed, until the rice is starchy and soft, about 1 hour. Chill for at least 1 hour. Stir in 1 cup grated Parmesan, 1/2 cup chopped scallions and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Form into patties and cook in olive oil over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Garnish: Grated Parmesan.
Carrots and Parsnips
Skip the cheese, scallions and parsley. Instead, stir 1 cup shredded carrots, 1 shredded small onion, 1/2 cup shredded parsnips and 1 tablespoon minced sage into the rice; proceed as above. Garnish: Chopped parsley.
Caramelized Leeks and Spinach
Skip the cheese, scallions and parsley. Cook 2 chopped leeks in 2 tablespoons olive oil until very soft and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add 3 cups chopped spinach and cook just until wilted. Stir the leeks and spinach into the rice; proceed as above. Serve with lemon wedges.