Rice and wheat are tiny packets of pure energy that fuelled the birth of human civilisation and then sustained enormous empires — in the case of the Khmer Empire, much of its power can be attributed to the fact that it was largely self-sufficient when it came to rice production, with little need to import and the inherent weaknesses that need creates. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice in all, all originating in a single species — oryza sativa — that is native to China and Southeast Asia. It feeds more people than any other grain in the world. Yet through one of those peculiar anomalies of human nature, we frequently choose to not enjoy this staple in its ultimate, most nourishing form.
Brown rice is simply rice with the inedible hull removed leaving the bran layer, cereal germ and rice grain within. And while brown and white rice contain comparable amounts of calories and carbohydrates, brown rice also contains magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, and manganese, and is also high in fibre — all extremely good and useful things. So good that, in the US, producers add the lost vitamins back in to white rice before putting it on the market (though this can be lost if you rinse the rice before cooking it).
Brown rice sadly has a number of negative associations in people’s minds. With poverty in the minds of many Asians and with irritatingly worthy health freaks in the minds of many Westerners, but it is absolutely and completely worth shedding these preconceptions, because brown rice really is delicious regardless of what anyone says or thinks about it.
With a nutty flavour and chewier texture than white rice, it’s true some simply do not prefer it at all. Yet it can add so much more in terms of flavour and texture, and is also much more filling, than its leaner, blander white counterpart. It also leaks less starch while cooking, so tends to be less sticky. Starch is where the stickiness in glutinous ‘sticky’ rice comes from, not gluten. Rice contains no gluten at all.
To make it even more delicious, we rooted out this recipe from Sri Owen’s definitive work, The Rice Book (published in 1993).
450g fragrant rice, washed and drained
3 tbsp peanut oil
4 shallots, finely sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
570ml water or stock
½ tsp salt
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, fry the shallots ini the oil or butter, stirring all the time, for 2 minutes. Add the ground ingredients and the cloves and cardamom. Stir for 1 minute and add the rice. Stir this around with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, then add the water or stock and the salt. Bring the liquid to the boil, stir again and cover the pan. Turn down the heat as low as possible and leave the rice to cook undisturbed for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat off and leave the rice with the pan still covered, to rest for 15 minutes.
Transfer to a warm serving bowl, discarding the cloves and cardamoms, and serve with grilled meat or fish.