Rice is known as one of those staples that brings fear into home cooks. Everyone has a different method that they swear by and the instructions on the back of packets never lead to perfect fluffy rice. With the invention of pouches of microwaveable ready cooked rice, most of the forthcoming generations will probably skip home cooking rice altogether.
For me, rice is a carbohydrate that I can’t do without. I grew up eating rice both from my Portuguese heritage where my nan would cook beautifully fragrant rice with onions and garlic and peas and magical seasoning that only she could create. Also my mother would cook perfect plain fluffy rice for curries and chillis that I always looked forward to when I would visit her.
I learned to cook rice from my mother in fact, well mostly. The cooking method is the same but quantities of water are different. She uses the same volume of rice and water and washes her rice. I never wash my rice and use double the water to rice by volume. The method that I learned from her however has never failed me. I add the rice and cold water to a roomy pan, add a lid and bring to a gradual boil over a medium heat. Once it’s boiling, I turn the heat to its absolutely lowest setting, keep the lid on and let it steam for 15 minutes without disturbing. After this time, I fluff with a large fork to separate the grains. Perfect rice every time!
I very rarely cook up plain rice, I either add stock or spices or herbs and vegetables like peas and onions to make rice more than just a side event. Sometimes I like to make the rice dish the real star, just like the Indians do with a Biryani or the Southern Americans do with Jambalaya or the Africans do with Jollof.
This pilaf is vibrant and as flavourful as it is colourful with earthy saffron, a hint of citrus and bursts of sweet, tart pomegranate. Serve with tagine or curry or beans or any other protein with some veggies and you’ve got a superstar meal. Stir in cubes of marinated, baked tofu, tempeh or chickpeas for a complete meal.
Good quality rice really does make all the difference. I used to think rice was rice but then I tried premium rices and realised that the taste and texture is really worlds apart. You can boil and boil very cheap rice and it will always be chalky in the middle, in my experience. I used to live off that stuff! If I can’t afford decent rice, I won’t have it! It doesn’t have to cost the earth however, Amira rice, one of the best on the market is often cheaper (by weight) than the other leading rice brand (in the UK). I guess it’s like the difference between a canned processed pea and a fresh pea. Obviously, if your budget doesn’t allow top end rice, I often buy supermarket brand basmati rice (not the really cheap value stuff though) and still get good results.
Brown rice will need more time and more liquid. I usually cook brown rice in plenty of water for 30-45 minutes and then drain as opposed to steaming. If I was to make this with brown rice I would use brown rice already boiled for 20 minutes or so before using the method below.
Ingredients: Serves 4 as a side dish (double for a main serving)
- 1 coffee mug full (about 1.5 cups) basmati rice (white or brown but see note above)
- 1 large orange
- 1 large pomegranate
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads or 1/4 ground saffron
- Salt and pepper
- Take a medium pan and place over a medium heat. Add the mug of rice and a mug full of cold water.
- In the mug, squeeze the juice of the orange, add the saffron, a teaspoon of salt and top up with hot water to make a mug full. Stir to release the saffron oils and then add to the rice.
- Use a microplane or fine grater to grate in the zest of about 1/4 of the orange and bash in the seeds from half the pomegranate and squeeze in the juice, then add a lid to the pan.
- When it comes to a rolling boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting and leave, undisturbed for 15 minutes. Don’t stir or remove the lid. After this time, fluff the rice with a fork, if it seems like it needs longer, return the lid and leave for another 5 minutes. Scatter over the seeds from the remaining half of pomegranate and any juice and grind over some black pepper.
No saturated fat
High in manganese
High in vitamin C