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Adventures in Rice and Grains
Posted by Lori Ross - Viewed 13193 times

Story and photography by Lori Ross

Here's to the wanderlust of youth! In 1974, several friends of mine decided to delay full-time jobs after graduating from college, and backpack and camp their way through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America -- living on a few dollars a day, cooking on camp stoves, and shopping at local markets. They returned home tired and scruffy, but brimming with wonderful stories of their adventures. What I remember most were their descriptions of the foods from these exciting places. Living on the cheap, they ate in inexpensive restaurants, and discovered street food -- rich barley soup and oat cakes in the British Isles; warm and filling couscous and tagines in Morocco; paellas in Spain; farro and polenta in Northern Italy; bulgur in the Middle East; huge rich noodle soups and sticky rice dishes in Asia; and corn- meal tamales, tortillas and cakes in Central and South America.

Intrigued, I tracked down cookbooks with some of these dishes, and tried restaurants that offered these items on their menus. I found health food stores that carried unusual grains, tested the recipes on friends, and discovered combinations that I loved then, and still use. These days, I especially like rice and grains on Seaworthy, our Fleming 55. They're quick, hearty, and flavorful side dishes, perfect soup ingredients; and can be main courses on their own. Easy to store, they need no refrigeration, and have a long shelf life.

TYPES OF GRAINS

Grains are the seed-bearing fruits of grasses. There are eight basic grains from cereal grass: wheat, corn, rice, oats, rye, barley, millet and sorghum. Other grains that are becoming popular -- quinoa (keen-wa), amaranth, flaxseed, and buckwheat -- are referred to as pseudo-grains or false grains. An inedible husk, also called chaff, is the outermost layer of the grain. When this is removed, the result is sometimes labeled "groats" or "berries." The next layer of a grain is the bran, a protective coating rich in fiber. When this layer is removed, the product may be described as pearled (pearled barley) or polished. Inside the bran is the endosperm (the starchy part of a grain) and the germ, the part of the grain highest in nutrients. When refined (such as in white flour, white pasta, white rice) the husk, bran, and germ are removed leaving only the endosperm. 

When buying grains, it's helpful to know a few commonly used terms. "Steel-cut" (oats) or "cracked" grains (cracked wheat) have been cut into smaller bits. "Grain flakes" or "rolled grains" are sliced and flattened between rollers (rolled oats). "Grain meal" has been ground to a gritty consistency (polenta, flours). "Grits" have been steamed and soaked, have had both hulls and germs removed, and have been cut using rollers. Bulgur is crushed cooked whole-wheat berries that require no cooking; it's just soaked in liquid. 

Some grains require long cooking, that can be reduced by soaking overnight, pressure cooking, or microwaving. Additionally, grains can be cooked in a crock pot or in the oven for an extended period and don't require any attention while cooking. Quick-cooking grains requiring less than 30 minutes to prepare include converted brown and white rice (such as Uncle Ben's), cracked wheat, rolled oats, teff, quinoa, polenta,  and buckwheat groats or kasha (available in health food stores or specialty markets). Grains  that cook most quickly (5-10 minutes) include instant oats, couscous, bulgur and instant polenta

STORING GRAINS

Keep whole grains in a dry place away from the sun. Most grains keep for a year or so, longer if emptied from their boxes  (notorious for harboring insects) and sealed in glass jars, plastic containers, Ziplocs, or vacuum packed. 

COOKING  GRAINS

I cook grains on the stove top, in the microwave, and in the oven.  The microwave is slightly quicker than the stove top, and the oven takes twice as long but it frees you from the galley because recipes require no stirring. Cooking liquid may be water, meat or vegetable stock, juice, or milk. The more flavorful the liquid, the more flavorful the grain will be.  If you're serving grains as a side to a rich or spicy main dish, you may want to make the grain fairly plain using water because it will be flavored by the sauce in your entre.  However, if serving grains as the main course, or with a mildly flavored or sauce-less entre, use chicken, beef or vegetable stock or broth; lemon, orange or lime juice (with peel, herbs, and spices to flavor).

To "pilaf" the grain, saute minced onion and garlic in oil, add grain and to saute pan and cook a few minutes to toast and coat grains.  This will keep grains separated and make a lovely pilaf.  Add liquid as described in table, cover, and cook as indicated. Brown rice, bulgur, barley, millet, and wild rice are great this way.

STOVETOP:  The table below offers guidelines, however read package directions because they may vary from times and amounts given below.  Using the liquid-to-grain proportions, bring liquid to a boil. Add grain. Stir. Bring back to boil, cover, and reduce heat to lowest setting possible for time indicated (see chart).  Cook grains through, but strive for texture; don't let them get soft or mushy. 

OVEN: This takes longer and requires less liquid.  Set oven to 350 degrees.  Pour 1 cup grain and about 2/3 of the water/liquid listed in chart into an oven-proof, covered casserole.  If you wish, add a sliced or chopped medium onion, garlic and a tsp of butter. Cook for 50-60 minutes. Check after 40 minutes to be sure there's enough liquid in casserole; if not, add a ¼ cup more.  Once cooked, let rest for 5 minutes, then remove cover and serve.

MICROWAVE:  This takes approximately 2/3 less time than stovetop cooking. In a microwave-proof dish, pour proportions of liquid to grain as indicated in the chart below.  Cover and microwave for time indicated, stopping to stir mixture about halfway through cooking.  Let it rest for 3-5 minutes, then serve.

PRESSURE COOKING:  Rinse 1 cup grain (except white rice) under lukewarm water before cooking. Put grain, 2 cups water, and 1 to 2 tbsps oil in pot. Oil reduces the foam from the grains and keeps the skins from popping off and clogging up the vent tube. Use NO salt, acids, vinegar, or tomato until after cooking, as salts and acid will toughen the grains and inhibit hydration. When the cooking time is up, quick-release the pressure cooker under cold water to avoid overcooking or foaming or sputtering at the vent.  Rice (basmati, long or short grain cooks in 5-7 minutes; whole and steel cut oats, brown and wild rice cook in 20-30  minutes; rye and wheat berries cook in 30-40 minutes.

 

OVEN BAKED RICE  

1 cup Uncle Ben's converted rice -- my favorite for every day
1½ cups chicken broth, water, or other stock 
1 tsp each salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 large onion, sliced

This is the best long-grain white-rice dish I've ever tasted. It's simple and delicious, especially with roast chicken or grilled steaks. Serves 4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an oven-proof casserole, mix rice with cold liquid, add salt, pepper, and butter or oil. Top with thin sliced onions; cook one hour. Let stand covered for 5 minutes before serving.

Option: After rice has finished cooking, add any of the following ingredients and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
1 cup scallions chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice, lime  juice or orange juice in addition to liquid
¼ cup of dried raisins, currants, apricots, cherries or cranberries 
¼ cup chopped nuts (almonds, pine nuts, pecans)
¼ cup chopped parsley, dill, thyme, rosemary, mint, spinach or other fresh chopped green or herb
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese   
1 tsp lemon zest 
1 cup chopped tomatoes


CLASSIC STOVE-TOP RISOTTO  

3 tbsp olive oil 
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp salt
3 cups stock or water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

I like Arborio rice, but if you can't find it, use any type of short-grained white or brown rice. Serves 4. Heat oil in a heavy pot, 10 to 12  inches in diameter. Saute onions 3-5 minutes until soft. Stir in rice and salt. Add 1 cup broth and bring to a boil, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Add wine, stirring frequently until absorbed. Then add 1/2 cup of the broth/water  mixture at a time, stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed; cook  until rice is creamy but still somewhat firm in center (15-20  minutes). Stir in cheese. Serve on a wide platter or individual plates with additional cheese passed separately. You may need to stir in a little extra liquid to make it creamier when served.

MICROWAVE RISOTTO WITH MUSHROOMS AND GREEN ONIONS

Microwave risotto turns out a bit less creamy than stove top but it is wonderfully cooked with only one stir during the cooking process. This is appealing on the boat as it dirties fewer dishes and allows me to wander away from the galley to be with my guests. Serves 4 to 6.

2 tsp oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ¼ cup Arborio or brown rice
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
½ cup mushrooms sliced (fresh, dried reconstituted or canned)
2 tbsp fresh basil or 1 tsp dried
¼ grated parmesan cheese
5 green onions chopped

In a large casserole, combine oil, onion, garlic.  Cover and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes until onion is soft. Stir in rice, stock, wine, bay leaf and mushrooms. Cover and microwave on high about 4 minutes. Stir, then continue to microwave on medium power until stock is absorbed and rice is tender (about 10 minutes). Stir in green onions, basil, cheese and scallions; then cover and let it sit for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper as desired and serve warm.

Paula Wolfert’s  NO-STIR POLENTA
Cookbook author and writer Paula Wolfert has a recipe for baked, no-stir polenta that is delicious and easy.  This cooking method brings out more corn flavor by toasting is as it cooks.  And without the traditional stirring and dangerous sputtering from the pot, making polenta becomes easier on the cook. If you make soft polenta, serve it immediately with your favorite tomato, white or cheese sauce.  If you make firm polenta, let it cool and slice thickly (like quick bread), then grill or sauté it in butter and serve with your favorite sauce or bruschetta topping.  This recipe serves 6.

2 tbsp butter or oil
2 cups medium-coarse or coarse ground cornmeal or polenta
7-10 cups water (if you want soft polenta use 9-10 cups water; for firm polenta use6-7 cups water)
2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 10-12 inch-wide oven proof saucepan or skillet (I like a cast iron skillet).  Mix cornmeal, water, butter/oil and salt until blended.  Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Stir the polenta with a long fork or spoon, taste, correct the salt and bake 10 more minutes.  Remove from oven and let it rest 5 minutes before serving.

If you want to serve it soft, pour into buttered bowl and top it with your favorite pasta sauce or a creamy gorgonzola sauce.  If you want to serve it hard., pour it into a buttered rectangular pan and let it harden. 

MY FAVORITE CREAMY GORGONZOLA SAUCE
½ cup heavy cream
3 oz. gorgonzola or other blue cheese broken into chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high, uncovered for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is thickened. Pour over polenta with a grind of black pepper and sprinkle fresh herbs.  This sauce can also be used with other cheese for topping polenta, rice, pasta and other grains.

SUMMERTIME WHOLE WHEAT BERRIES
One of my favorite summer cookout dishes that everyone loves.  Makes 6-8 servings.

1 cup whole wheat berries (or spelt or kamut)
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
1 red and 1 yellow pepper chopped
1 red or white onion (or 5 scallions) chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and  pepper to taste
2 spring  onions chopped
2 tbsp of lemon juice

Bring grains and liquid to a boil, lower heat and simmer gently for 50-60 minutes until just cooked (should be a little chewy). Meanwhile, sauté  onions and peppers in oil until soft. Once grains are cooked, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze lemon and stir. Top with onions and peppers.  Serve warm or room-temperature.

Variations:  
Greek Berries -- add feta, cucumbers and black olives
Moroccan Berries -- add raisins, nuts, dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and replace lemon juice with orange juice.

TABBOULEH SALAD
For the best version of this classic Middle Eastern salad, use a high proportion of parsley and serve with crisp inner leaves of romaine lettuce, using them as spoons to scoop the salad from the serving dish.  Add hummus, pita bread, olives, feta cheese and a light red wine for a cool and tasty lunch aboard.

1/2 cup bulgur rinsed under running water and drained  
1/4 cup water
6 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil   
Salt and pepper to taste    
2 cups fresh parsley, minced  
2 medium tomatoes, diced  
4 medium scallions (green and white parts), minced  
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced 
Mix bulgur wheat with 1/4 cup water  in medium bowl; set aside until grains are tender and fluffy (20-30 minutes). Mix lemon juice, olive oil,  salt to taste, and red pepper if desired. Mix bulgur, parsley, tomatoes, scallions and mint. Add dressing and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate to let flavors blend, 1 to 2 hours. Makes 4-6 servings.

Variations: Lemon Tabbouleh: Replace water with lemon juice for a bright delicious flavor. If using all lemon, serve within a few hours of making it as the lemon and onion tend to overpower the flavors.
Greek Tabbouleh: I also like to add chopped peppers, cucumber, feta cheese and black olives for a variation on Greek Salad.
Shrimp Tabbouleh: Top with peeled, cooked shrimp, cucumbers and peppers to make a full meal.
 

Vidalia Restaurant’s Shrimp and Grits
I never liked grits until I tasted this dish in a wonderful Washington, DC restaurant owned by Southerners.  The grits are a rich and creamy contrast to the zesty shrimp.

24 cooked, peeled shrimp
½ cup white old-fashioned grits (or use instant grits and cook for only 5 minutes)
1 onion (preferably Vidalia) sliced thin
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cup milk
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp of salt
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
6 oz lager beer

Bring grits and milk to a slow boil. Simmer for 18 minutes, stirring frequently (or use instant grits and cook in milk for only 5 minutes). Add cream, 2 tbsp. butter and salt. Set aside. Sauté onion until golden brown and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in bowl.

In the remaining olive oil sauté shrimp with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add chopped garlic and beer and lemon juice and simmer for one minute. Finish sauce by adding fresh thyme, 2 tbsp. butter and chopped tomato. Serve shrimp mixture on top of grits and a salad on the side.
 
CHICKEN TAGINE
The word tagine refers to the finished dish as well as to the earthenware pot topped with a conical lid in which it is traditionally cooked. Tagines are made of meat, fowl, or seafood, and fresh seasonal vegetables or fruit, and flavored with exotic herbs and spices.. Tagines are served from a communal dish set in the center of the table, and tradition warrants the use of chunks of warm bread to sop up the exquisite sauces.
Serves 6-8
1 cup uncooked couscous (regular, whole wheat or Israeli  couscous)
3 cups boiling water, salted
3/4  pound boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1½ inch strips
1/2 tsp  salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium-sized  zucchini, diced
1/3 cup drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 1/2  cups chicken broth
1 can (15 1/2 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and  drained
 

Vidalia Restaurant’s Shrimp and Grits
I never liked grits until I tasted this dish in a wonderful Washington, DC restaurant owned by Southerners.  The grits are a rich and creamy contrast to the zesty shrimp.

24 cooked, peeled shrimp
½ cup white old-fashioned grits (or use instant grits and cook for only 5 minutes)
1 onion (preferably Vidalia) sliced thin
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cup milk
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp of salt
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
6 oz lager beer

Bring grits and milk to a slow boil. Simmer for 18 minutes, stirring frequently (or use instant grits and cook in milk for only 5 minutes). Add cream, 2 tbsp. butter and salt. Set aside. Sauté onion until golden brown and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in bowl.

In the remaining olive oil sauté shrimp with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add chopped garlic and beer and lemon juice and simmer for one minute. Finish sauce by adding fresh thyme, 2 tbsp. butter and chopped tomato. Serve shrimp mixture on top of grits and a salad on the side.
 
CHICKEN TAGINE
The word tagine refers to the finished dish as well as to the earthenware pot topped with a conical lid in which it is traditionally cooked. Tagines are made of meat, fowl, or seafood, and fresh seasonal vegetables or fruit, and flavored with exotic herbs and spices.. Tagines are served from a communal dish set in the center of the table, and tradition warrants the use of chunks of warm bread to sop up the exquisite sauces.
Serves 6-8
1 cup uncooked couscous (regular, whole wheat or Israeli  couscous)
3 cups boiling water, salted
3/4  pound boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1½ inch strips
1/2 tsp  salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsps olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium-sized  zucchini, diced
1/3 cup drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 1/2  cups chicken broth
1 can (15 1/2 oz) garbanzo beans, rinsed and  drained
 

3 tbsp raisins
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp crumbled saffron threads
1/2 tsp each of ground allspice and nutmeg
3 tbsp chopped  fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish 
 
Combine 1 cup couscous with 3 cups salted boiling water in a saucepan. Cover and lower heat to simmer 5 minutes until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork  
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, and heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken, onion, zucchini, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until chicken is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except the couscous and cilantro, bring to a boil and add couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff the couscous with a fork.
Variations:
 
Lamb or Beef Tagine: Replace chicken with cubes of lamb or beef simmered to tenderness and replace raisins with prunes; replace saffron, allspice and nutmeg with cinnamon, honey and sesame seeds.
 
Seafood Tagine: Replace chicken with shellfish and/or and omit raisins, allspice and nutmeg . Add ½ cup crushed or diced tomato and increase ground cumin to 2 tbsps
 
 
Chart of approximate cooking times for rice and grains
 

Grain = for one cup uncooked
Amount of water or flavoring liquid
Cooking Time
Microwave
Cooking Time
Stove top
Cooking Time
Oven
350-375
(use only 2/3 of liquid required)
Amaranth
3 cups
15-20 minutes
25-30 minutes
50 minutes
Barley
4 cups
20-25 minutes
30-40 minutes
1 hour
Buckwheat
2 -5 cups
15 minutes
20 minutes
40 minutes
Bulgur
Instant cracked wheat
2 cups
3 minutes
5 min
n/a
Instant Cornmeal
Polenta
Grits
2 - 2 1/2 cups
3 minutes
5-6 minutes
15 minutes
Stone-ground Cornmeal
Polenta
Grits
4 - 5 cups
20-30 minutes
30-40 min
1 hour
Kamut, Spelt or Whole Wheat Berries
3 -4 cups
40 minutes
1 hour
2 hours
Millet
4 cups
15-20 minutes
25-30 minutes
50 minutes
Oats
Steel Cut
3 cups
 
30-40 minutes
 
Converted White Rice
2 ¼ cups
10-12 minutes
15-20 minutes
50 minutes
 
Rice (White)
Basmati
Jasmine
Arborio
Bomba
 
2 - 2 1/2 cups
10-15
20-25 minutes
1 hour
Brown Rice
2 1/2 cups
20-25
40-45
1 hour 30 minutes
Converted Brown Rice
2 - 2 1/2 cups
15-20
35-40 min
1 hour 15 minutes
Rye
4 cups
30-40
1 hour
2 hours
Wild Rice
4 cups
15-20
40 min
1 hour 10 minutes

 


 






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