|Tania Nathan is a Chinese-Sri Lankan Malaysian who loves her food and is often to be found rummaging through a freezer somewhere in Hakaniemi. Come say hi!|
A little variety of rice would be nice
It may seem counter productive to go back to the basics after discovering all the joys and weirder wonders of the Asian store. But you must learn to walk before you fly little grasshopper, so let me introduce you to the most basic, and yet arguably the most important of Asian foodstuffs: rice. Rice is the basis of any meal; it is the backbone, and the first and last thing you would eat as an Asian. The very first of solid foods fed to babies, and the very last thing served at banquets. Rice symbolises fertility, plenty, good health, luck, bounty and all things good. Surely you wouldn’t want to neglect such an important guest at your dinner table?
Cooking well and holding its shape, long grain rice varieties are plentiful and less sticky than shorter grains. They are also more expensive and come in a dizzying array. Remember that cooking times differ for different types of long grains, and adjust water levels accordingly. Basmati and jasmine rice both belong to the long grain rice family. Long grain rice comes in white or brown, the latter being more popular though less healthy as it has had its nutritious brown husk removed.
Short grain rice
Also called porridge rice in Finnish stores, short grain rice typically also includes risotto rice and glutinous or sticky rice varieties though their type differs. Use short grain rice like glutinous to prepare sticky rice with mango for desserts, or Arborio rice for risotto or cook into porridge, sweet if you prefer or a congee for a typical Asian breakfast. Classic and good.
Long grained yet slightly sticky, this aromatic rice is undoubtedly the queen of the rice table for Thai and Chinese cuisines. Its subtle flavour, ease to cook and slightly stickiness amends it to sauces and chopsticks alike, not to mention its light floral fragrance and taste. Buy in 10-20 kilogram bags in Asian stores for the best savings and if health is your goal, mix with wholegrain rice and quinoa. An easy, everyday rice that suits every cuisine.
Long, thin slender grains with a nutty scent, basmati rice is expensive and rightly so. It cooks well into pilaus, briyanis – even plain – and holds its shape well. It’s also arguably healthier than other rice varieties, with brown basmati having up to 20% more fibre than regular brown rice. Originating from India, it is prized and eaten at special occasions.
Also known as purple rice, I have only seen the glutinous varieties in Asian stores around Hakaniemi. The nutritional properties of black rice surpass blueberries and is a good source of iron, Vitamin E and antioxidants. Possessing a mild, nutty flavour, soak your rice before cooking and eat with coconut cream and brown sugar as a decadent dessert or mix with normal white rice and cook after soaking. It will stain your rice a nice purple hue but hey, live a little.
Eaten by Indians for health reasons, red rice is purportedly lower on the glycemic scale and therefore better for you. The colour comes from its husk, which adds to its fibre and general good for you nutrients. It cooks up a tad toothsome but tastes pretty nice mixed in with regular rice. It has a flavour similar to black rice but milder, so start out with this one. Available in smaller bags and requires no soaking prior to cooking.
Sushi rice is a bit pricier but worth trying for its shiny and flavoursome finish. Generally it’s mixed in with mirin and sugar when made into sushi but why not try this with a topping of sesame oil, wasabi and your choice of protein? Cook as you would rice and spread out on a plate and fan vigorously to maximise the shiny finish after pouring over with mirin mixture.