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Rice Made Awesome

March 30, 2010

Wild Rice with Tomatoes and Eggplant

I was never really a big fan of rice. Given the carbohydrate choice, I’d choose pasta over rice any day, but when I decided I needed more whole grains in my diet, I knew I was going to have to welcome rice, and other rice-like things, into my life on a much more regular basis. This became a lot easier when I realized that rice is a very versatile canvas, and that it can be cooked with all manner of vegetables, herbs, and spices. I know, what a revelation, right?

This general grains-cooking method has become invaluable for me over the last few months. I vary the recipe based on what I’m planning to add in, but the basic technique stays the same, and the recipe nearly always includes carrots. This can be done with all types of grains: wild rice, brown rice, barley, Kamut, millet, wheat berries, even couscous, quinoa, and bulgur, although the cooking method varies slightly for these smaller, less dense grains (I’ll talk about these in a future post). Once the grains are cooked and flavored, you can mix in roasted vegetables, tofu, fish, chicken, whatever you’d like, really. Some of my favorite combinations are listed at the end of this post.

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For this particular version, I cooked the rice in diced, canned tomatoes, and just a bit of extra water. The tomatoes add great flavor and extra vegetable goodness, but if you want to emphasize the grains, vegetable broth, chicken stock, or just plain water work fine. Generally, you want to use double the amount of liquid to grain, so if you’re cooking half a cup of rice, you want about a cup, and maybe a bit more, of liquid. For this particular recipe, I used half a cup of wild rice blend, a 14 ounce can of tomatoes, and an additional half cup of water. I also added onion, carrots, smoked paprika, and Mexican oregano, which has a very distinct, almost flowery scent and flavor.

The first thing to do is heat about a tablespoon of oil in a small to medium saucepan. Once the oil is hot, add the onions (if you’re using them). I don’t love a very strong onion flavor, so I tend to use a small amount of onion. For this pot of rice, I used half a very small yellow onion. Cook the onion over medium heat until it’s softened and just beginning to brown:

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Then add the carrots, and garlic, if you feel like adding garlic. Stir well, and let the carrots and onions cook together for about another minute or so. If you want, try some celery, parsnips, leeks, or other aromatics here, too. Then add whatever dry seasonings you’re using. In this case, I used a teaspoon of Mexican oregano, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt. You don’t have to cook the carrots too long, as they’ll get plenty soft cooking with all the rice. Any spices or dried herbs should be added now; fresh herbs should be added at the end. This gives dried herbs time to rehydrate and get all flavorful; fresh herbs would become flavorless if cooked too long. Exceptions to this rule (because they always exist, right?) are woodsy herbs like rosemary or thyme. They can withstand a longer cooking time, and can be added at this point.

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Now, stir in the rice. You want to stir it well so the grains are fairly well coated in oil, and a bit toasted. Cook the rice for maybe half a minute before adding your liquid: canned tomatoes, broth, water, maybe some wine or vinegar. Worcestershire sauce is an excellent addition, as is a splash or two of hot sauce or soy sauce. This is your chance to give the rice some great flavor, so don’t be afraid to be creative.

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Now, cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it all simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Usually, while the rice is cooking, I prepare whatever I’m going to add in: roasted sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli, sauteed spinach or kale, rutabagas, turnips, Brussels sprouts. Use whatever vegetables are in season, or whatever appeals to you. In this instance, it being the end of the month and my crisper being somewhat emptied, I decided to finish off the rice with green olives, and top the whole dish with some breaded eggplant I cooked up and froze last summer. The next night, I topped the remaining rice mixture with a few meatballs, also from the freezer. Both were delicious.

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A big bowl of tomato-ey rice might seem like a weird thing to eat for dinner, but it’s really very satisfying and full of flavor, and there is tons of room for creativity. Here are a few other flavor combinations I have tried and liked:

  • Brown nice with roasted butternut squash, kale, and turkey sausage
  • Kamut and Israeli couscous with carrots, roasted broccoli, goat cheese, lemon juice, and slivered almonds
  • Brown rice with broccoli, sweet potato, and roasted red pepper, seasoned with tamari and topped with avocado
  • Wild rice with Anasazi beans, parsnip, and spinach
  • Bulgar with chickpeas, spinach, and tomato, seasoned with smoked paprika
  • Bulgar with roasted chicken and dilled roasted potato
  • Couscous with white beans, mushrooms, and garlic, topped with roasted swordfish
  • Kamut with carrots, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and canned tuna in olive oil

About half a cup of uncooked grains yields about a cup of cooked grains, plus whatever you’ve added in, so it usually makes about two meals. I love it because it’s filling, but doesn’t make me feel overfull. There are so many different kinds of grains to experiment with, and different flavor combinations to try. And, it’s super easy. If you have any ideas for different grain and vegetable combinations, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. cindy permalink
    March 31, 2010 5:56 am

    I just made a huge pot of Dill Basmati Rice w/ Chickpeas and Chard last night, from the Veganomicon and I was amazed at how much flavor quickly frying cumin seeds will give the rest of the dish! I think it’s become my new favorite quick-nite dinner dish and I can’t wait to try this as well!

    • March 31, 2010 6:46 am

      That sounds delicious. And the cookbook looks awesome. I might have to pick up a copy.

  2. Ashley permalink
    April 2, 2010 7:54 am

    Are the suggested combinations at the bottom supposed to be cooked in the diced tomatoes or no?

    • April 2, 2010 8:16 am

      If you think diced tomatoes sound good in those combinations, sure. Otherwise you can use broth or water. You can pretty much do whatever you want, I think. Kitchens are very forgiving.

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