The history of rice stretches far back into the mists of human history.
It was first domesticated from a wild grass between 10,000-14,000 years ago, with the two main subspecies of rice, indica, and japonica, originating from the same domestication event 8,200-13,500 years ago in China’s Pearl Valley.
From then, cultivation of the crop spread to India, Sri Lanka, Greece, and Sicily onwards to Northern Africa, and then to Brazil and the Americas via Portugal.
So in many ways, the journey of rice from wild crop to key ingredient of many of our favorite dishes runs parallel to the development of human civilization.
Nowadays, it’s enjoyed all over the world and enhances all types of local, regional, and national cuisines.
But is this dish still a convenient and tasty choice eon after it first emerged? You bet – here are three simple but superb rice dishes to prove it!
1. Egg fried rice
This takeaway classic is consumed by the bucketload in Britain, and it’s easier to recreate at home than you might imagine.
After cooking your rice as per packet instructions, drain, steam dry and then set it aside. Then, heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok, drop in some chopped onion and fry for five minutes, add your rice and stir it together until it’s toasted.
Finally, add another tablespoon of oil and pour in a mixture of 3-4 beaten eggs, stirring vigorously. Once served, the smiles on everyone’s lips will confirm that this dish tastes as wonderful as anything you can order from the best Chinese takeaway in your neighborhood.
Tip: sprinkle spring onions from food emporium Waitrose over your egg fried rice for a final flourish.
2. Bolognese risotto
Everyone loves Bolognese, but this tantalizing dish sets our taste buds aflutter by replacing pasta with rice.
First, heat your oven to 200 degrees, then spread 400g of minced beef and 200g of sliced button mushrooms on a non-stick baking tray and cook for 20 minutes.
Then, mix 20g of dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with 130 ml of hot beef stock. Next, heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a shallow casserole and cook one finely chopped onion until it feels soft, then add one chopped garlic clove and around 200g of arborio rice, stirring the mixture together vigorously.
Finally, drain your mushroom liquid, chop your soaked mushrooms and stir them in, adding another point of the beef stock gradually and stirring the mix together until the rice is cooked. Stir in 250g of passata, your minced beef, tomato puree, and add some balsamic vinegar, oregano, and two ounces of cubed mozzarella. Bring everything to a simmer, then place it uncovered in your oven for 20 minutes until it’s a lovely golden brown.
Tip: Grab some arborio rice from grain specialist Riso Gallo for an authentic Italian taste.
3. Rice n peas
If you’ve ever lived in Jamaica, you might be familiar with the terms ‘Sunday hungry’ and ‘big Sunday’ – with a hard week’s work ahead, many Jamaicans will claim that the hunger they experience on that particular day of the week surpasses all other belly rumbles in intensity. Therefore it’s only satisfied by a huge, tasty meal.
Rice n peas are a staple big Sunday ingredient, and although it usually accompanies dishes like jerk or brown stew chicken, when prepared properly, it’s so tasty that it can be a meal in itself that’s suitable for veggie dieters or those simply seeking a savory treat.
To recreate this Caribbean classic at home, you’ll need a can of kidney beans, a can of coconut milk, two or three of cups of water, two chopped cloves, two small bundles of scallion, a teaspoon of thyme, a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of black pepper and, of course, two cups of long grain rice.
Drain the liquid from your kidney beans into a measuring cup, add the coconut milk and add your water, then add this potion plus your garlic, beans, and thyme to a big pot (Duchy-style for real authenticity). Add the salt and pepper and bring everything to the boil.
Add your rice and boil on high heat for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer until all water is absorbed – this takes around a quarter of an hour.
Last but not least, uncover your pot, stir with a spoon, so it looks even tastier (or ‘shelly and nice’ as Jamaicans say!) and serve.
Whew, it’s been emotional! We hope you’ve enjoyed this 14,000-year culinary odyssey for rice obsessives which has whisked you through time from the pre-paddy field era of China’s Pearl Valley, when commercial rice plantations were an outlandish dream, to the Mediterranean shores of North Africa to the contemporary cuisines of Sicily and balmy backyards of Jamaica, where modern rice is consumed by the bucketload.
Along the way, you might have picked up some fascinating facts that stand you in good stead for your pub quiz and gained a newfound appreciation for a versatile food that’s perpetually popular but has an oft-overlooked legacy.
So the next time that anyone dares tell you that it’s ‘just rice’, you can disabuse them of that nefarious notion and set the record straight by taking them back to the future with your own rice time travel tour (provided they’ve nothing planned for the next half hour or so).
But most importantly, you now have three convenient but spectacularly tasty rice recipes in your armory – more than enough to keep your family feeling full and guests feeling suitably satisfied. Plus, if you love cooking, these dishes are an absolute dream to recreate at home, so there’s no doubt they’ll tickle your fancy, flex your chef’s muscles and replenish your repertoire.
These three terrific rice dishes don’t take long to prepare but will keep hunger at bay for hours and a smile on your family’s lips for days afterward – what’s not to love?