Wheat, the staff of life?
Uh, I don’t think so.
Although there are lots of exotic and nutrient-dense alternatives to wheat, for those of us with gluten issues, rice seems to take center stage as our go-to, gluten-free grain. I often have a batch of cooked rice in the fridge to use in everything from soups to salads to hot cereal. When you can’t eat certain foods and grabbing something on the go is difficult, having already-cooked staples available makes life much easier, don’t you agree?
I’ve been thinking of doing a series of posts on alternative grains and I figured I might as well start at the beginning — with rice. Once you realize that wheat is off your menu forEVER (as in the rest of your life and into the hereafter), you wander into this wonderful parallel universe of alternatives grains. Seriously, it’s so much more fun over here.
Think about it, would you be baking with montina, mesquite or chestnut flour if you weren’t forced away from wheat? Or experimenting with teff, job’s tears, amaranth, or black japonica rice?
No, probably not.
So, let’s get on with life and enjoy the abundance; and I’m here to help you learn how to do that. We’ll start with rice.
Hey, all you glutenized wheat-eaters, you can join us, too. This is a bipartisan blog, we’re an inclusive bunch.
First off, the “minute” versions, the trolley car versions, the stripped white versions don’t count in my mind, so we’re sticking with whole grain rice, meaning the germ and bran are intact. When rice is milled it goes from brown to white. The outer bran layer of the rice is removed in a process called “whitening” leaving it much lower in nutritional value. Almost all the fiber and most of the B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, selenium, and zinc are washed down the drain (or wherever the “waste” goes). Ugh, why do we do stuff like that?! Fiber is our gastrointestinal hazmat team so we want more of it, not less. For a detailed post on fiber, check here. The bran layer is also what gives those lovely brown, red, and black colors to the different varieties of rice.
Rice is categorized by the length of the grains — long, medium, and short. The shorter the rice is, the more chubby it becomes. Bummer, sounds a bit like a girlie trait.
Types of rice
Short & medium grain brown (Golden Rose, Arborio, Brown Sweet, Sushi)
Rice contains two types of starch; amylopectin (sticky, gooey starch) and amylose (non-sticky starch). The short and medium grain rices contain more of the sticky amylopectin so they cook up differently. When the rice cooks, the amylopectin is released causing the rice to stick together. The solid brown rice in the picture above is “Golden Rose Brown” which is one of my favorites for making hot rice cereal (I’ll do a post on that). Think of it this way, the shorter and chunkier the rice, the more amylopectin and therefore the stickier the outcome.
Long grain brown rice (Brown Basmati, Brown Jasmine)
Long grain varieties have less amylopectin and far more amylose, so the grains don’t stick together. They cook up light and fluffy. Each grain is 3 to 5 times longer than it is wide. These are the super-models, tall and skinny.
I love wild rice, partly because it’s so delicate and exotic and partly because of its nutty, savory flavor. Most of the “wild” rice I use comes from Lundberg Farms in California. The real thing grows wild in the Great Lakes, but that’s only a small percentage of the wild rice sold in stores. It’s actually an aquatic grass rather than a true grain. Rich in high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber it’s not only pretty to look at, it’s packed with health-promoting goodness as well.
Bhutanese red rice
Lotus Foods has several varieties of exotic rices. Short-grained Red Bhutanese is one of them. Grown at 8,000 feet in the Himalayans and irrigated with mineral-rich glacier water, this definitely qualifies for exotic. It has a beautiful red color and a mild sweet taste.
Deep, dark purple, this rice was once grown exclusively for Chinese Emperors, hence the name. According to Chinese legend, Forbidden rice increases longevity and stimulates the flow of chi (energy). It has a nutty flavor and fragrant aroma.
A blend of short grain black and medium grain mahogany, this rice is a Lundberg exclusive. It has a nutty, mushroom-like taste and looks beautiful next to a nice grilled salmon filet. Yum!
Rice cooking tips
• Never lift the lid while the rice is cooking or you’ll lose the steam necessary for tenderizing the rice.
• It helps (but is not necessary) to soak the brown, red, black and wild rice varieties and hour or so before cooking.
• The rice to water (or broth) ratio is dependent on the variety of rice used and where you live. I normally go with 1 cup rice to 2 cups liquid, but that’s because I’m doing high-altitude cooking. If you live at sea level you’ll use less water – maybe 1 and 3/4 cup per cup of rice. Water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go, so you have to use more water and cook it longer. Does that make sense? By the way, it’s a drag when you’re out backpacking at 10,000 feet, in a hurry to eat and low on fuel. Glad I have my MSR Reactor Stove. I love that thing. But I digress…
Go forth and rice up your life! (bad pun, I know)