Roughly half of humanity depends on rice as a staple, and it is easy to see why. Cheap, nutritious, convenient and versatile - that is Oryza sativa in a nutshell. Look further and the ubiquitous grain has further advantages.
It absorbs the flavours of any liquid in which it is cooked, be it a Spanish paella, an Italian risotto or an English rice pudding. And it pretty much doubles in size as it does so, making a few key ingredients go a long way.
Cooked on its own, it is the vital complement to anything from Indian curry sauces to the legion of Asian dishes that call for steamed rice.
Long-grained rices such as basmati and jasmine suit Indian, Thai and Chinese dishes.
Risotto rices, like arborio and carnaroli, are considered medium grain, while a good example of a short grain is sushi rice.
Most people prefer their rice hulled to whiteness.
Only Westerners, it seems, like the nutty taste of the husk on brown rice.
Speaking of which, in summer we just about live on this crunchy rice salad; the secret lies in the spicy flavour of the dressing.
Combine 3 cups of cooked brown rice with chopped celery and green capsicum and finely sliced spring onions.
For the dressing, mix together in a small bowl 1 tsp curry powder, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp sugar, tsp salt and 2 Tbsp lemon juice. Blend this into a cup of salad oil and a cup of vinegar until thoroughly combined.
Pile rice into a salad bowl, stir dressing through the rice, and cover and chill until needed (preferably overnight). Garnish with roasted peanuts just before serving.
Making ham and cheese croquettes is a great way to use up leftover rice. Good messy fun! Stir beaten egg into cold cooked rice and mix together with a few chopped chives if you like.
Spoon some rice mixture flat into the palm of one hand, add a small slice each of ham and a soft cheese such as mozzarella, and cover with more rice. Form into a ball so the ham and cheese are completely enclosed.
Roll each ball in fine breadcrumbs and fry in hot vegetable oil over a medium heat until nicely browned all over. Drain on paper towel and serve with a fresh tomato dipping sauce.
Today's recipe, a one-pot winner, is so adaptable that it will soon become a favourite.
Make it once then change it as you like: use a different curry paste, add other vegetables, use lemon juice instead of lime, and so on.
OVEN-BAKED THAI CHICKEN AND RICE (serves 4)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
400g boned chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 Tbsp of your favourite Thai curry paste
250g basmati rice, rinsed
2 large red peppers, deseeded and chopped small
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 400g tin light coconut milk
250ml boiling water
Generous handful chopped coriander leaves
Method: Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Heat oil in a shallow ovenproof casserole dish, on a medium heat, then cook onion, stirring frequently, until soft - about 5 minutes.
Add chicken and curry paste and cook for 3 minutes, stirring gently, until chicken is coated and paste is heated through.
Tip in rice and peppers, then stir in juice and zest, coconut milk and boiling water.
Bring gently to a simmer, pop the lid on (or cover with foil) and transfer dish to the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until rice is fluffy.
Scatter with coriander before serving.
- The Southland Times