Little by little, your kitchen is starting to shape up! You’ve got the equipment, hopefully you’ve got a stove (!), and now you’re filling up your cupboards or pantry with some of the essentials. Who knows? You might soon be ready for your own cooking show!
I hope it’s obvious that my suggestions of “essentials” to have on hand should be tailored to your own tastes and dietary needs. For example, if you can’t stand black beans, you certainly don’t need to have them in your cupboard. The idea is to have the items that you like (and that are good for you) within arm’s reach. OK, let’s continue — this week, we’ll focus on grains.
Here’s where you can have some fun and shake things up a little — there are a lot of grains to choose from. No longer do you have to rely on the same boring white pasta or white rice. Not that I have anything against pasta and rice, but it’s good to expand your horizons a bit and try something new.
Brown rice. I can almost hear you say, “But it takes too long to cook!” It’s true — brown rice does take a little longer to cook than white rice, but the results are worth it. The difference between brown and white rice is that brown rice retains its outer layers (bran and germ); white rice is stripped of these layers. Leaving the outer layers on not only gives brown rice a richer, nuttier flavor, it also helps preserve some of the nutrients that would normally be stripped away, such as fiber, B vitamins, selenium, and magnesium. And brown rice counts as a whole grain. Eating whole grains may lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.
Rice is a staple of so many diets around the world (in Thailand, the word for “to eat” actually means “to eat rice.”) You can purchase rice in bulk, in bags, or in boxes. If you buy boxed rice, try to avoid varieties that have seasonings added to them — seasonings usually translate into “high sodium.”
Keep in mind that brown rice may not last as long in your cupboard as white rice because the germ layer contains oil. Oil can go rancid over time. Ideally, keep your brown rice in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so you need to plan accordingly. But the extra time is worth it. Besides serving brown rice as a side dish, here are some other ways to use this tasty grain:
- Make a rice pudding (which doubles as a breakfast cereal) by heating up cooked rice in milk or soy milk. Add raisins or chopped dates along with a dash of cinnamon.
- Skip the pasta salad and use brown rice — throw in chopped up chicken breast or tofu, some cooked veggies, and a splash of olive oil.
- Combine cooked brown rice with pinto beans; season with chili powder and any other “Mexican-style” spices that you like. Spread the mixture down the middle of a warmed whole-wheat tortilla; sprinkle with shredded Mozzarella cheese (and maybe a dash of salsa) and enjoy!
Basmati rice. Who wouldn’t like having the “fragrant one” hanging out in his kitchen? Basmati is the Hindu word for “fragrant.” This long-grain rice is native to India and Pakistan and has hit the ground running in the US (with a few spin-offs, such as Texmati and Kasmati). This truly is a fragrant rice with a nutty flavor that cooks up dry and fluffy, making it great for sauces and spicy foods. Try stirring in some nuts, dried fruits, vegetables, and either meat or beans for a wholesome main course. You can purchase brown basmati rice, as well as white.
Arborio rice. If you’ve ever eaten risotto, you’ve likely eaten Arborio rice. Arborio rice kernels are short and plump and become creamy when cooked, lending themselves well to risotto, since they can absorb a lot of liquid without becoming mushy. Superfino Arborio is one of the most commonly used types of Arborio in the US. Arborio rice may not necessarily be a staple in your pantry — unless you’re a risotto aficionado. And if you’ve never tried risotto, give it a go. All you need is patience and a hand for stirring. Check out these recipes from Health.com.
There are so many varieties of rice to choose from, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Try different kinds. Keep a few in your pantry, and enjoy!
More grains next week!