Symbols and traditions are part of celebrating the New Year. We gave well wishes and received them. We read that the New Year is a blank slate waiting for whatever we decide to write on it. I would say, as a nutrition educator, to fill the year with ways to improve your health through the choices you make in your diet and your lifestyle. Of course we would all like to have good luck and prosperity.
Rice, a staple in many countries, is also a symbol of long life, good luck and prosperity. It is linked to spiritual health, attainment of knowledge, and purity. These are all good things to hope for in 2019.
In Asia, rice represents the wealth of the home. You need to protect your wealth by choosing a canister made of clay or glass to keep your rice safe and fresh - no plastic allowed. Having a superb container signifies that you are caring for your wealth.
In Southeast Asia, a three class system has ordered society hierarchically. Those who owned land for cultivating rice were the most powerful. Rank was noted in the size of a person's house and rice granaries. This distinguished the wealthy from the poor. All the areas where rice was found, such as fields and granaries, were considered sacred spaces.
Without question, rice is the most relied-upon grain of sustenance in East Asian countries. In fact, in a number of Asian languages the word "rice" and "food" are the same. Annually, a typical person in Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, or China consumes anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds. In stark contrast, the U. S. per capita consumption of rice is less than eight pounds.
Rice was first cultivated in China around 7000 B.C. It was the secret of Asia for many years. Only later did travelers introduce rice into ancient Greece; and when Alexander the Great brought it to India, rice finally found its way to other corners of the world. Moorish conquerors took rice to Spain in the 700s, and the Crusaders were responsible for bringing rice back to France.
Rice was introduced into South America in the 17th century by the Spanish during the colonization of the New World. It was taken to West Africa by the end of the 1600s and slaves introduced rice to South Carolina in the mid-1700s.
Contrary to popular thought, rice does not need to grow in water. The reason rice fields or paddies are flooded is to control weeds and insects and to increase productivity. Thailand, Vietnam and China are the three greatest producers. The United States produces about 10 percent of world's rice, and 85 percent of the rice is consumed here. Arkansas is the largest producer, with California second in production.
Some of the most popular varieties of rice in this country include:
*Jasmine rice: A soft-textured, long-grain, aromatic rice (smells like Jasmine) that is available in both brown and white varieties. Use it along with any Asian dish.
*Basmati rice: An aromatic rice that has a nut-like fragrance, delicate flavor and light texture. This rice is great with Persian or Middle Eastern pilafs full of dried fruit, fragrant herbs and spices. It is also a delicious base for Indian curries.
*Bhutanese red rice: Grown in the Himalayas, this red rice has a nutty, earthy taste. It is delicious. Let this rice be the star of the show. Keep the other flavors simple.
*Forbidden black "longevity" rice: Similar to red rice. A black-colored short grain rice that turns purple upon cooking. It has a sweet taste and sticky texture. It is beautiful with edamame beans and dill for the beautiful contrast. Legend has it this ancient grain was also reserved for the emperors of China. It is a natural source of antioxidants called anthocyanins.
*Arborio rice: A round, short-grain, starchy white rice, traditionally used to make the Italian dish risotto.
*Sweet rice: Almost translucent when it is cooked, this very sticky short-grain rice is traditionally used to make sushi and mochi.
*Long grain rice: This is the rice most people buy. Its fine. It's bland. It's easy to make. Use it for Mexican or Spanish rice.
*Wild rice: Wild rice is an aquatic cereal grain that grows "wild" in isolated lakes and river bed areas located primarily within the continent of North America. Wild rice is the grain of a reed-like aquatic plant (zizania paulustris), which is unrelated to rice. It is grown in the United States and also in Canada. It has twice the protein of brown rice and does not contain arsenic. It also contains antioxidants that have been linked to improving heart health. The texture and taste of this rice stands alone as a side dish.
Tips for preparing
Rice is known to contain phytic acid and arsenic. It is important to soak your rice before cooking for 30 minutes to 2 hours, stirring frequently and replacing the water four to five times. Add some lemon juice to the water to aid with the release of these anti-nutrients.
Wild rice takes longer to cook, but does not need to be soaked first. It should be rinsed.
When choosing rice, look for companies such a Lotus Foods and Lundberg, who grow rice more sustainably. They go beyond organic in their approach to a cleaner environment and improved quality for farmers.
Cooked rice makes a great desert. First add coconut milk or almond milk. Then add cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and honey for a delicious, easy Asian-style pudding. The black rice pudding included with this article is super easy and delicious.
Homemade vegetable sushi rolls are easily made by wrapping your choice of rice and your favorite vegetable in nori sheets.
Prepare organic vegetable broth and fill a large pot one half to three-quarters full. Add one to two handfuls of rice plus sliced celery, onions and garlic. Simmer over a low heat. Add shitake or reishi mushrooms for an immune-boosting effect.
Rice and beans provide a high protein, filling meal. Add your vegetable of choice. The Pistachio Lentil Biryani recipe provided can be a full meal.
A side dish of rice with a variety of toppings is a good addition to any meal. Use your favorite toppings, such as cashews, sesame seeds, pineapple pieces, sauteed mushrooms, scallions and currants.
To make a rice stir-fry, saute ginger and minced onions in organic coconut or extra virgin olive oil in a large pan. Add some fresh vegetables that you have in your refrigerator to the mix. Take off the heat and season with roasted sesame oil, black pepper and gluten-free soy sauce.
Rice is a healthy food when prepared properly. Add to your whole food diet in moderation and think about long life, good luck and prosperity while you are enjoying the many different flavors!
Black Rice Pudding with Coconut Mango
1 cup uncooked black rice
1 can (14.5 ounces) coconut milk
3 tablespoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 mango, peeled and sliced thin
Cook rice according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat coconut milk, sugar and seeds from vanilla bean over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Spoon rice into a bowl, top with sweetened coconut milk, mango and coconut flakes.
Wild Rice and Carrots
1/2 cup wild rice
1 1/2 tablespoons refined coconut or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Prepare rice according to package directions.
Melt coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrots; cook 8 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in rice, parsley, pepper, and salt; cook 1 minute.
Note: This recipe can be changed by substituting 1 cup diced bell pepper and 1/2 diced fennel bulb instead of carrots, using the same cook time, adding 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped oregano, black pepper and salt in the last minute of time. Make your own variations!
Pistachio Lentil Biryani
Recipe from "The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic
1 1/2 cups white basmati rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam marsala
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup beluga lentils (see note)
1/2 cup raisin
Preheat a 2 quart pot oven medium heat.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in pot and then mix in the cumin and mustard seeds.
Cover pot and let seeds pop for about 1 minute or until the popping slows down, stirring occasionally. (Keep lid on until popping is done.)
Lower heat a bit, add garlic and other tablespoon of coconut oil, and saute until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes.
Add rice, salt, garam masala, red pepper flakes and turmeric and stir to coat.
Add water and lemon zest. Cover and bring to boil. Once boiling, lower heat as low as possible, cover pan and cook until water is mostly absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat while rice is cooking. Add lentils, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils well.
Stir lentils, pistachios and raisins into rice. Cover pot and let raisins soften for 15 minutes or so. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Note: The lentils for this recipe need to be cooked al dente, lest they get lost in the rice. Beluga lentils work perfectly here because they cook up nice and firm. If you don't have any, green or brown will do. Definitely do not use red, which are too tender and will fall apart.