Heirloom Rice: Red and Black

20140906_193605On two separate occasions lately I’ve come across Lotus Foods heirloom rice and picked some up to try out. The first I tried was the Bhutan Red Rice and then the Forbidden Rice, which is a black rice.  The red rice, in addition to being an heirloom variety is also organic, while the black rice is grown with a water saving method. I tested them both together and separately. If you’re looking for a recipe for black rice, check out my fellow blogger Nancy’s Black Rice Salad. I resisted the temptation to do much with the rice the first time I made it because I wanted to evaluate the flavor and texture before fancying it up.

I found both the Bhutan Red and black Forbidden rice at a specialty store last fall and had to give them a try. In general I like heirloom varieties of vegetables, but I’m not sure I’ve had an heirloom grain before! The rice kernals of the Bhutan Red rice are plump and retain their color moderately well in cooking. I cooked it on the stove, more or less according to package instructions. (I had to cook a bit longer because I’ve got a new set of cookware I’m getting used to and had to adjust the temp during cooking.)

I like the way both the red and black rices look. For that alone you might snag a bag if you see it in a store. The unusual look dresses up the meal more than plain ol’ white rice, or even brown rice. The Forbidden Black rice was looked even more spectacular than the red!

I did not rinse the Bhutan Red rice before cooking and the grains were remarkably less sticky than white rice. In fact I had a bit more trouble with the chopsticks because the rice did not clump the way I’m used to. 😉

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The flavor, however, was unremarkable. I had expected a different heartier flavor, but it didn’t have a distinctive flavor, though it did not taste like white rice. I added no seasonings, but I think this rice would be a good one for additions of seasoning and vegetables, providing something of a blank canvas for flavors.

Forbidden (black) Rice

The Forbidden Black rice was much more satisfying in some ways. I did give it a quick rinse before cooking, though that didn’t appear necessary from the appearance of the water I poured off. I cooked this in my microwave rice cooker, rather than on the stovetop, using the cooking time suggested for brown rice. It cooked up well and had a wonderful aroma when I opened the pot! Lightly fragrant, almost floral. An elusive scent that dissipated quickly. The rice had a nice clean flavor, and the grains glistened almost purple with the ambient moisture clinging to them. In fact, the small amount of liquid I found at the bottom of the pot was purple. It was a flavorful, dramatic rice. I can see why Nancy chose to use black rice to make her salad. You could mix this with almost anything and have an eye-catching as well as tasty dish. Bright vegetables, such as carrots, peas, or an assortment of brightly colored bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange) would make a show-stopping rice and veg medley. Like the Bhutan Red, the grains of the Forbidden rice were not sticky and did not clump like white or brown rice does.

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Be aware, however, that both the Bhutan Red and Forbidden Black rice from Lotus Foods comes in a small package: I cooked up one cup from each package and it looks like I have less than a cup left in each bag. It’s probably not economical (I don’t recall what it costs since I bought it last fall) nor eco-friendly (imported from Bhutan and China) to regularly use Red Heirloom Rice from Bhutan, or Forbidden Black rice, but rather buy it only as a novelty for a special meal and dress it up with seasonings and veggies. Be on the lookout for other Lotus brand rices (they have several varieties) as well as more local sources of heirloom rice varieties, especially the black rice. Heirloom rices do not have to be grown on the other side of the world; some heirloom varieties are grown in the U.S.

If you’re a gardener and want to experiment with growing your own heirloom rice, I noticed that Baker Creek Seeds offers two heirloom rice varieties: A Mayan variety called “Blue Bonnet” and a golden variety called “Carolina Gold”. 🙂

Sauerkraut with Apples and Onions

This dish is probably best served in the fall, but it can also serve as the last hurrah of winter, as we move into warmer months. You should still be able to find good apples and the sauerkraut is store-bought. Some sauerkraut comes with caraway seeds added. This is a good option if you don’t keep caraway seeds on hand.

1 large onion, chopped
2 sweet apples, sliced or coarsely chopped
16 ozs sauerkraut
Caraway seeds (optional)

Saute onion in a small amount of oil. As the onion starts to wilt, add apples and continue sautéing, and stirring until the apples start to brown a bit. Then add sauerkraut. If the sauerkraut doesn’t have caraway seeds added — or if you want more — sprinkle in caraway seeds. I can’t say how much because it depends on if the sauerkraut already has some, and it depends on your personal taste. Stir and simmer covered until the apples are cooked (but not mushy).

This lovely savory dish likely has Germanic origins so if you like it you may also like Nancy’s Kohl und Pinkel. (Kale and Sausage)

Rainbow Carrots with Cardamon and Orange

I found carrots in assorted colors at the store recently. Since I’d been eyeing colorful heirloom carrot varieties in seed catalogs and wondering what the flavor was like, I thought I’d give these a try. The good news is that they taste just like carrots. I cooked them with seasoning, but nibbled on the ends I cut off while preparing them. The red-purple color goes deeply into the carrot, so you don’t have to worry about peeling the pretty color off. I noticed that one of the red carrots had a yellow center and one had an orange center. I’m not sure if this indicates that they are two different varieties or if this is simply a variation from one carrot to another. Notice that the yellow carrots have no discernible core.

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I think both these red-purple carrots and the yellow carrots would be best used in recipes which use raw uncooked carrots, such as carrot and raisin salad, or my Frankenslaw. (The two-toned carrots would make interesting carrot sticks!) They taste great cooked, but the darker carrots got darker and were less attractive cooked, while the yellow carrots became dingy-looking from being cooked with the darker carrots. From this one experiment, I can’t really say how well the yellow carrots hold their color, since they were cooking in water that turned dark from the red-purple carrots!

But never fear, they tasted wonderful! For this first time I boiled the carrots. I might have had less trouble with the color from one bleeding into the other if I’d roasted them. (And I’ve had no trouble with color transference at all if I’d cooked only one variety instead of mixing them.)

I covered them in just enough water to cook, and added a smidgen of cardamon and a tad of dried grated orange peel for three large carrots. (I have measuring spoons that literally have these small gradations of “smidgen” and “tad”.) I brought the water to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer. I cooked the carrots until they were tender when I poked them with a fork. Part of the time I cooked them uncovered and part of the time covered. When boiling carrots I want to use as little water as I can and cook it down so that I don’t have a huge amount of cooking liquid left; I want the seasoning flavoring the carrots, not a potful of water.

This is a good recipe if you want your carrots to taste slightly sweet, without adding brown sugar or honey. If you prefer savory carrots, with butter, salt, and pepper, this is not a savory carrot recipe, though it probably would take butter or margarine okay.

Cardamon is a strong flavor and you have to be careful not to use so much that it overwhelms any other seasonings. The trick is to use just the right proportions to make the flavors blend. I love cardamon and probably could’ve done with a bit more of it. I don’t usually measure when I cook, but if I’m writing a recipe here for others to use, then I do measure. I was probably a bit more conservative on the cardamon than usual. Cardamon, orange peel and carrots are a lovely combination. Try it and adjust the seasonings to your own taste! 🙂

Spicy Braised Spinach

20150301_183129Spring is a great time to get good spinach, whether from the garden or the store. I had only canned spinach when I was growing up. (Hey, Popeye ate canned spinach!) I didn’t realize spinach was edible until I grew some myself. 😆 You can buy good fresh spinach at the store but if you want to have a little spinach patch, you need to plant soon. (Check to see when is the right time for your region.) It’s a cool weather crop; once the weather warms up it will “bolt”, which means flowering and setting seed. The good news is that if you plant an heirloom or open pollinated variety you can save the seed and plant it when you have cool short days again. The bad news is that the plants leaves become bitter when it bolts, so it’s best to stop harvesting leaves then.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that spinach cooks down tremendously, so if you’re planting, plant a lot. When you’re cooking it, you can heap it up in a pot or pan and end up with very few servings. A big bunch of fresh spinach from the store will yield only two generous servings when cooked. If the bunch is not so big, two not-so-generous servings.

It cooks fast, so this should be the last thing you do for the meal. Wash the spinach and let it drain in a big colander while you prepare the rest of the meal. (Snip off most of the stems; they’re edible, but with a big bunch of spinach, there may be more stems than you want.) Then heat a small amount of garlic oil in a big skillet or pot. (I use Boyajians.) Using garlic oil adds a bit of flavor, but you really don’t need much oil. You can saute a small amount of garlic in oil before adding the spinach if you don’t have garlic oil.

A no fat option is to just put a tiny bit of water in the pan or pot. The spinach contains enough moisture to cook itself: a small amount of oil or water is just to get it started and prevent that bottom layer of leaves from sticking.

Heap the spinach in when the oil is warm. I cook this on medium or medium-low heat. The bottom layer will wilt very quickly. I turn the mass of leaves and move them around with tongs so they all get in contact with the bottom of the pan. After giving the mess of greens a couple of turns, sprinkle with Hungarian hot paprika, then mixed it all up, until all the spinach is wilted. This only takes a few minutes. How much hot paprika you sprinkle on depends on how spicy you want it.

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The spinach, garlic oil, and paprika make a delicious broth. There’s not much of it, though. If you strain the spinach before serving, the broth would be a good over rice or mashed potatoes, or as an addition to a soup stock. Or you can serve the spinach — broth and all — in a bowl then turn the bowl up and drink it after the spinach is gone. 🙂

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