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Words of Wisdom

July 16, 2013
dill and cashew rice, Afghan stew, salata and pitta

dill and cashew rice, Afghan stew, salata and pitta

I eat rice a lot and, not that I wish to boast, I don’t feel like I’ve ever had too many problems cooking it. But it seems like a lot of people do. I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends who are otherwise brilliant cooks who talk about how rice is “difficult” or they can never seem to get it right. I know a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of money on rice cookers that look to me like they make the whole process a lot more faffy . How do you clean one of those things for a start? (I always factor in how much effort it will take to clean up afterwards when deciding whether a task is worthwhile. This is why I still contest that Jamie’s “thirty minute meals” are at least Jamie’s 45 minute meals.) Please for the love of god don’t buy into this objectionable money-making myth  that all cooking needs special equipment and buy another damn kitchen gadget – a pan with a lid does the job just as well as it has done for centuries.

But I’ve had the somewhat annoying experience of having other people in my kitchen while I’m cooking rice and I’ve started to understand why people have difficulty in cooking firm yet tender, fluffy and tasty rice rather than starchy sludge, and end up just giving up on the whole thing.

It’s because they won’t leave the damn pan alone.

The best way to cook basic rice is to put it in a pan one part rice to slightly less than two parts cold water and a bit of salt, bring it to the boil, then turn the heat down really, really low, stick a lid on and leave it the hell alone – for roughly 12 minutes if it’s white rice, 25 if it’s brown. You try to avoid removing the lid until it’s done, you don’t mess with the temperature control, you don’t shake it or prod it with a spoon and you definitely don’t stir it – agitating the grains like that just makes them sludgy and sticky.

I have been in the kitchen with so many people who find the idea of just leaving something to its own devices incredibly stressful. They just have to check that things are going OK, they can’t believe it will cook evenly if they don’t stir things up, they think if they don’t take control of matters and involve themselves in the process in some way then everything will go terribly wrong. And they end up wrecking the rice. These are probably the same people who slow down their baked potatoes or sink their sponge cakes by opening the oven door to check on them too soon and letting all the heat out.

I’m sure there’s some kind of Zen teaching we can derive from this. As humans we do have a tendency to meddle and agitate things that would probably be best left alone to just run their course, and as a result our relationships and our lives too often end up all stodgy and sticky.  Sticking your wooden spoon in the pan of rice is the culinary equivalent of phoning your ex at 3am just so you can have one last last word about how you never want to see the loser again. Let it be, people, let it be!

I do love just plain rice generally, served alongside a nice curry or similar – my favourite rice is brown basmati for its nutty flavour and firm texture as well as the fact it’s meant to better for you than white (low GI score or something like that) , although I know a lot of people find brown rice a bit heavy. I’m also quite a fan of wild rice, although I don’t have it often because it’s expensive, just adding a handful to the standard stuff makes for a nice change.

I do jazz up rice every now and then to try and make it a bit more interesting in its own right, rather than just a bog-standard side dish. My favourite regular additions are:

–          Peas and sweetcorn. Probably the easiest – just microwave them and then stir through the drained rice gently with a fork. Sometimes I add a bit of cider vinegar plus some black pepper, and maybe some sunflower seeds.

–          Turmeric, mustard seeds and fried onion. I call this “yellow rice” and I’m sure people think it’s a lot fancier than it actually is.

–          Lemon zest, grated ginger, and grated coconut cream. This actually does add a bit of stickiness but in a good way – good with Thai or Jamaican type curries

–          Cheats egg fried rice. Egg fried rice is another dish people say they can’t get right. I boast that I can, but actually, what I do is make a big omelette, chop it up, and throw it into the cooked rice with some soy sauce. Sometimes I let the rice cool and dry  a bit and fry it in a wok, but usually I don’t bother. You can use scrambled tofu in the same way for a vegan version.

And there’s this invention, which is slightly more complex but is really good served as part of a mezze/tapas/smorgasbord type platter as it has its own strong flavour. It goes well with rich spicy sauces – in the picture I’ve put it with a spicy Afghan stew from Sally Butcher’s amazing “Veggiestan” book and a mint and coriander salata (which is a cross between salad and salsa).

Cashew and Dill Rice


2 cups of brown rice

5-6 cups fresh boiled water from kettle

Tbsp butter or Vitalite

3 sliced cloves garlic

2 handfuls broken up cashew nuts

Sprinkle of pumpkin seeds

Tsp turmeric

Tsp salt

Table spoon of dried dill tops

–  Melt the butter in a pan and fry the garlic in it. Once this starts to brown a little, add the cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds and stir to coat. Let them sizzle for a few minutes.

– Add the turmeric and salt and stir again.

– Add the uncooked rice and just stir enough to combine all the ingredients. Then add the boiled water. Don’t stir any more, just bring it to the boil, then turn it down, put a see through lid on and simmer for 25-30 minutes until cooked. If it looks like it’s going a little dry you can add more water, and after 20 minutes you can do a taste test to check if it’s ready, but other than that, leave it.

– Once cooked, drain the rice in a sieve – let it drip into a bowl for at least five minutes so that it sheds as much of its excess water as possible.

– Add another little knob of butter and the dill tops and stir through very gently with a fork.


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