Cooking The Perfect Pot of Rice

Grains can be the base of a meal any time of the day. Warm rice along with warm rice milk or soymilk, flavored with ground cinnamon and topped with raisins, makes a wonderful breakfast. Steamed rice tossed with salsa and chopped vegetables or mixed with tomato sauce and cooked beans makes a fast lunch or dinner.

First thing you’ve got to do is make a pot of fluffy rice. Here are some tips: Measure twice, cook once: Rice absorbs its cooking liquid while simmering, so get your proportions (rice to water) correct. If you use too much water, you’ll get rice soup (which is okay if you want to pretend you’re in a Dickens novel – please sir, may I have some more? –  but not so hot if you’re looking forward to a nice, fluffy bowl of rice). If you use too little water, you’ll get a version of rice popcorn. How do you determine the correct proportions? Follow the directions! Or read on; we’ll give you some information. Be sure you’ve invested in measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a pot with a lid. Slow down: you need to give rice time to cook – if you rush it, it’ll pout and get all chewy and crunchy. So, read the directions (or the rest of this article) for correct cooking tips. Keep a lid on it: obsessively checking on rice will release the steam that makes it cook. Don’t touch until you’re fairly sure it’s done.

Consider the alternatives:

Converted or par-boiled rice is the most foolproof to make and the fastest to cook. When rice is converted, the nutrient-laden shell is removed with soaking and steaming. It’s then pulverized and added back to the rice, preserving the original nutrient content. Precooking re-moves some of the starch, allowing the grains to remain separate (and therefore fluff up more easily).

To cook 1 cup of converted rice (which will make about 2-1/2 cups cooked rice), bring 2-1/4 cups cold water to a boil in a medium pot. Add 1 cup converted rice, 2 teaspoons of vegan margarine (this helps with the fluffiness, but is not mandatory) and 1/2 teaspoon salt (ditto). Stir about three times and cover. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) until all the water is absorbed, about 3-5 minutes. If all the water has been absorbed, add about 2 Tablespoons of boiling water, stir, cover, and let stand. Fluff the rice and you’re ready to roll!

Long- and short-grain rice, such as basmati and arborio rice are cooked just like converted rice. Some checkpoints: are you measuring the rice and the liquid, timing the cooking, keeping the lid on, letting the rice rest at the end of cooking, fluffing with a fork to poof it up? All right!

Brown rice, or rice that has not been polished, has more nutrient value than white rice. Don’t plan on storing the rice for more than six months; after that it can begin to get stale, making it hard to get tender. You can cook brown rice the same as white rice, just increase the recipe listed above by 1/2 cup liquid. As brown rice can be a little bit harder to get tender, let us suggest the pilaf method. This adds flavor and fluff to brown rice.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot (if you like, you can add 1/2 cup chopped onions for flavor and cook them until soft, before adding rice). Add 1 cup rice to oil, and toast, stirring and cooking quickly until all the grains are coated, for 1 minute. Add 2-1/2 cups water or vegetable stock. Bring to a fast boil and cook, uncovered, for 1 minute. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 40-45 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. The rice will be cooked but still firm (uncover it briefly and check it). Cover the pot and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Fluff and eat!

Be sure to check brown rice after about 30 minutes; if all the water has been absorbed, but the rice is still tough, add about 1/4 cup boiling water, recover the pot, return to heat, and check again in 5 minutes.

Written by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE for The Vegetarian Resource Group.

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