September is National Rice Month, though south Louisiana needs little reason to whip up a big batch of our favorite rice dishes.
Rice is an ancient grain, under cultivation since at least 5,000 B.C., according to Barron’s “The Food Lover’s Companion.” It’s a staple for about half the world’s population, with about 7,000 varieties growing today. In the U.S., the major rice-growing states are Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri and, of course, Louisiana.
Rice is typically categorized by grain size: long, medium or short. Long-grain rice is preferred in the U.S. When cooked, it produces light, dry grains that separate easily. Short-grain rice, on the other hand, has fat, almost round grains that have a higher starch content and, when cooked, they’re sticky and more moist. Medium-grain rice, as is to be expected, falls between the two, tending to be fluffy right after cooking but clumping as it cools.
Brown rice includes the entire grain and is more nutritious and higher in fiber than white rice. It also has a nuttier flavor and chewier texture than its lighter counterpart, and cooking times tend to be longer. White rice, unlike brown rice, has had the husk, bran and germ removed.
Converted or parboiled white rice comes from rice that’s soaked, steamed and dried before milling, infusing some of the nutrients of the bran and germ into the kernel’s heart. It tends to be a pale beige and take slightly longer to cook than plain white rice.
Wild rice, known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture, really isn’t rice at all, Barron’s says. It’s a long-grain marsh grass native to the Great Lakes area, though commercial cultivation takes place far outside that region. Wild rice takes much longer to cook than conventional rice, and can be more expensive, but it does well when mixed with brown rice to stretch it out.
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