Watching svelte Olympian bodies tumble, swim, run, and spike volleyballs across the TV all week inspired me to come up with a recipe that’ll do a body good, and I thought immediately of a better-for-you food that I’ve recently fallen in love with: brown rice.
If you’re skeptical about my affair, I’ll admit it wasn’t love at first. More than once I’ve ended up with mushy and weirdly chewy brown rice that’s, let’s face it, is gross. But, if you nail the cooking technique, it turns out these heart-healthy grains—they have more fiber, vitamins and bran oil (thought to lower cholesterol) than white rice—make a nutty, al dente, satisfying starch to accompany anything from brown sugar and bananas in the morning, to green onions, soy sauce and chicken at dinner.
Should I use short or long grain?
I like to use long grain brown rice since it has a more delicate, tender texture that more closely mimics the white rice we know and love; the type of starch in shorter grains tends to up the mush-factor. Long grain also has a slightly shorter cooking time than short. You could use short-grain brown rice for risotto or sushi, but if you’re going to indulge in butter and cheese laced risotto or take the time to craft sushi at home, I think the occasion merits classic white grains.
Should I pre-soak the rice?
Pre-soaking the rice will give the grains a softer texture so if you don’t like the little bit of chew that brown rice has (which I happen to love) pre-soaking will get rid of it. Pre-soaking brown rice in cold water for about 1 hour will decrease the cooking time by 10-15 minutes. Don’t soak for more than 1 hour, though, or you’ll end up with a too-soft, mealy texture.
If you do pre-soak, be sure to rinse the soaked grains in a strainer before you cook them. Starch will come off in the soaking water and you want to use fresh water to cook the rice to keep it from getting gluey.
Should I season the cooking water?
Just like in cooking pasta, salt makes rice taste more like rice, and, just as importantly, makes sure it doesn’t mute the flavor of whatever you’re eating it with. This is especially true for brown rice since you want to coax out each grain’s nutty, earthy flavor. Add about ½ teaspoon of salt to the rice and water before bringing it to a boil.
Another way to season the rice is to use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water. Be careful adding additional salt since the stock may already be salty enough.
How to cook brown rice (in 3 simple steps)
1. Use the ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part long-grain brown rice. Combine the rice, water, and a generous pinch of salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat to as low as possible so that the pot is just barely simmering. Cover with a tight lid and simmer for 40-45 minutes, checking on occasion to make sure the water isn’t bubbling hard as it cooks—if it is, turn the heat down further, or even alternate between turning the flame on and off every once in a while. You can check for doneness by sticking a fork into the pot and gently pushing aside some rice so you can see the bottom of the pot. You’re done cooking when all the water is gone.
3. When all the water has evaporated, move the rice to a cold burner and let the pot sit covered for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Moroccan Brown Rice Salad
One of my favorite brown rice salads is simply seasoned with harissa and lemon, with sweetness and crunch coming from cucumbers, parsley, and soft, sweet, dried apricots that you let wilt in the steaming rice during the last 10 minutes. If you don’t usually cook with harissa, you should start. It’s a beautiful crimson paste used in Moroccan cooking made from peppers and spices like cumin and caraway; spicy and sweet, its one of those things that make people say, “Mmmmm, what is that flavor?!” Sometimes harissa comes as a dried spice instead of a paste—equally as wonderful. You should be able to find the paste or the dried spice in any specialty grocery store including places like Whole Foods.
This recipe is delicious both warm right after its made, or cold as leftovers.
1½ cups long grain brown rice
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 large handful parsley
½ cup dried apricots
1 small cucumber
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons harissa paste (or 1 tablespoon of powder)
1 lemon, or to taste
Cook the rice: Combine the rice, water and salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn heat down to low. Cover and let barely simmer for about 45 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. (If the water bubbles forcefully while cooking, turn the heat down further, or even alternate having it off and on.)
Prep other ingredients: While the rice is cooking, chop the parsley, scallions, and apricots, and dice the cucumbers. Zest and squeeze the lemon, and whisk those together with the olive oil and harissa. Adjust lemon or olive oil to taste.
Rest rice: When the rice is done and the water has evaporated move the rice to a cold burner. Without disturbing the rice, add the parsley, green onions and apricots to the pot. Cover and let the whole lot and rest for 10 minutes.
Combine: After 10 minutes, gently fold the steamed garnishes into the rice. Add the cucumber and dressing and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning with salt, to taste, and finish with more olive oil, lemon, or lemon zest, to taste.