Rice 101 – Naturally Gluten-Free

Carol Fenster, author of 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, gives you the 411 on Rice.

Food Findings

Rice 101 – Naturally Gluten-Free

A Primer for Beginners

-Carol Fenster, author of the award-winning 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, 2008) and weekly menu planning services at www.GfreeCuisine.com

Rice grainsMost of are familiar with white rice. It is a staple in the gluten-free diet; we use it as flour for baking or thickening sauces, eat it as a side dish in rice pilaf, and make it into desserts like rice pudding. All rice is naturally gluten-free and there is a vast world of rice varieties (in fact, over 40,000) that can bring flavor, texture, and nutrition to your diet.

I think of rice in two general categories: white rice and brown rice. Here are my pantry favorites, available in natural food stores and selected grocery stores and the ones that I think are most important to us on a gluten-free diet.

White rice is the variety that most of us recognize; it can be purchased in short, medium and long grain versions. Short grain versions include regular white rice and sticky (sometimes called glutinous) rice, the kind found in Chinese restaurants and used in sushi. Don’t worry, the term “glutinous” refers to its texture; it does not contain wheat gluten. The sweet rice flour used to thicken sauces is ground from this rice variety.

The most common medium grain white rice, called arborio, makes wonderful risotto (who can live without comfort-food risotto?) because its grains are small and its starch produces risotto’s lovely, creamy texture. Two long grain varieties of white rice – the aromatic Jasmine rice, grown in Thailand, and the fragrant Basmati rice, grown at the foot of the Himalayan mountains in India and Pakistan – make lovely side dishes because their grains produce the dry, fluffy texture we Americans like in our side dishes. Texmati, grown in the U.S to mimic Basmati rice, also cooks up in a similar manner.

But the white rice most of us know best is plain, long-grain white rice. It makes delicious rice pilaf, stir-fry dishes, and works beautifully in Paella, the Spanish main dish made of seafood, sausages, vegetables, and spices or, try it in Jambalaya. I prefer to cook it in (gluten-free) chicken broth or vegetable broth for a fuller flavor, but you can cook it in salted water.

While white rices are certainly important in a gluten-free diet, the kernels are usually polished during processing so, nutritionally speaking, white rices have fewer fiber and nutrients than the whole-grain brown or lesser-known, darker-colored varieties. Of course, enriched white rice has nutrients added back in, but the whole-grain brown types, depending on the variety, provide varying amounts of potassium, B vitamins, manganese, selenium, magnesium, and fiber from the husks that aren’t stripped away during processing.

My favorite brown rice is long-grain brown rice. I usually serve it in place of long-grain white rice as a side dish, but also eat it for breakfast, drizzled with honey and yogurt, and use it in place of bulgur in tabbouleh, the Middle-Eastern dish. It also makes an enticingly beautiful entree when served on a large platter with the main dish meats arrayed on top.

Running a close second at my house is black rice, yes, that’s right, BLACK rice, which comes from Indonesia and the Philippines. It may actually look dark purple and go by various names such as China Black Rice or Black Forbidden Rice, but it cooks up dense and delicious. One of my favorite ways to serve it is in Thai Black Rice Pudding – black rice is cooked in coconut milk instead of water or broth, then tossed with fresh mango and coconut, plus a little sweetener to taste. It can be served as a dessert, but makes a great breakfast dish, too.

Rice also comes in hues of red, such as Wehani rice, with its somewhat nutty flavor. I whirl the kernels in my little hand-held coffee grinder until they resemble cracked wheat, then make my gluten-free version of Cracked Wheat Bread. You can also serve it as a side dish, just like long-grain white rice.

What about wild rice? It isn’t actually rice at all but instead an aquatic grass and the only grain native to North America. I love its nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is sold alone, or in mixtures of rice (such as those by Lundberg) and makes a great side dish. I also use wild rice in Wild Rice Pancakes with Pecans for a savory side dish and as a cold summer salad in Orange-Scented Wild Rice with Dried Fruits.

One of the chief reasons people don’t prepare the darker varieties of rice at home is that they take a lot longer to cook than simple white rice. In fact, some varieties of brown rice take up to an hour to cook. But you can also cook brown rice (and other darker rices) in a pressure cooker in only 20 minutes. Now, before you shudder in horror at the thought, remember that today’s pressure cookers aren’t the same old-fashioned pressure cookers used by our grandmothers. They’re safer, easier to use and clean, and they are a good investment in our gluten-free lifestyle because they can be used for a variety of other dishes besides rice.

If a pressure cooker doesn’t suit your style, try cooking the rice in a rice cooker which has a timer and automatically shuts off when done so you don’t have to monitor it as you do with cooking rice on the stovetop. Some of the newer rice cookers are quite sophisticated (now if they would only cook the whole dinner … ) You can also cook rice overnight on Low power in a slow cooker, but it will be more porridge-like in texture than if you cooked it on the stovetop. That’s OK with me; I love walking into the kitchen in the morning, knowing my hot and hearty breakfast is waiting for me in the slow cooker. Just a drizzle of honey, a few raisins, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and I’m happy. And the leftovers immediately go into the fridge for breakfast later in the week, gently reheated in the microwave, of course.

Rice may be one of the less expensive items in our gluten-free pantry, but it’s always wise to protect your investment. Tightly sealed, rice keeps well on your pantry shelf. But for the best longevity, refrigerate it.

So, now you know my favorite rice varieties and how I use them. Give them a try with your family and I’m sure you’ll find many more ways to bring the joy of rice into your gluten-free diet.

Seafood Jambalaya

Jambalaya is a spicy Cajun or Creole dish made with rice and seafood. Serve it with a crisp mixed greens salad and some gluten-free French bread. The sausage, tomatoes, broth, and Creole seasoning contain salt, so wait until the end to add any more salt.

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ pound gluten-free Andouille sausage, such as Johnsonville, sliced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, chopped
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes, including juice
1 can (14.5 ounces) or 1-3/4 cups gluten-free, low-sodium chicken broth, such as Swanson’s Natural Goodness
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon Creole seasoning, such as Spice Hunter, or more to taste
1-1/2 cups cooked brown rice or long-grain white rice
½ pound thawed frozen cooked and peeled large shrimp
½ cup frozen green peas, thawed
Additional salt, to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried, for garnish

1. In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage, onion, celery, and bell pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, broth, garlic, and Creole seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add the rice, shrimp, and green peas and cook until the mixture is heated through. Taste and add more salt and more Creole seasoning, if desired. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Reprinted with permission from the award-winning 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, 2008)

All dishes mentioned in this article can be found in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, 2008).

Photo courtesy of USA Rice Federation, www.usarice.com

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