Forbidden rice?

How’s this for neurotic? Many years ago, I read about some guy who had either painted or carved an improbable amount of a classic text on a single grain of rice. For a time, I harbored a little concern that at some point I had eaten such a thing without benefiting in any way from the knowledge it held.

They’re still doing peculiar but impressive things with rice, away from and at the table.

An aid agency in Australia combined 3,527 pounds of the stuff with 1,162 gallons of vegetable stock, 1,764 pounds of peas and 705 pounds of Parmesan to make the world’s largest pot of risotto.

A Chinese company claimed title to the world’s mightiest rice dumpling, weighing 8,818 pounds and combining 3,131 pounds of rice with fruits and nuts.

A bunch of students and staff at Iowa State University put together a 2,480-pound Rice Krispies treat, using 818 pounds of the rice cereal.

A Japanese town steamed and flavored almost 278 pounds of sushi rice to produce a tuna roll about two inches in diameter and 919 feet long.

My favorites, though, are the micro guys. Indian artist Dipak Syal, using only the naked eye and a human hair split 11 times for a brush, set a record by writing 2,557 alphabets on a grain of rice. He also claims to be able to paint a portrait of anyone in the same space, and has proved it with detailed likenesses of Gandhi and a prominent sheik, among others. But the work of Russian micro-artist Andrew Rykovanov takes the rice cake with his engraved or painted portraits of such great historical figures as Leonardo da Vinci and Jesus Christ, sometimes combined with text in the manner of illuminated manuscript pages, on single rice grains. (He’s also painted full-face portraits of 17 Romanov czars and czarinas, each on the face of a split poppy seed.)

But all this strays from the point of giving props to an ancient but seemingly prosaic staple food — the staple food for half the world and to disabuse you of that notion a bit.

Recorded history shows rice being cultivated at least 5,000 years before the birth of Christ. There are more than 7,000 varieties, 90 percent of which come from Asian paddies. Most of us are familiar with or have eaten only a few types, but probably in a pretty wide variety of dishes.

One you may not even have heard of is the “forbidden rice” referred to in this week’s restaurant review (see Page 33). So deeply purple the grains appear to be and are called black, this rice originated in China, has a nutty taste and aroma, is high in nutrients and gets its name from a legend that it was only grown for and consumed by Chinese emperors. There were rumors that these guys also fed it to their concubines because of its allegedly powerful aphrodisiac qualities. Remember, it works if you think it does.

A simple preparation cribbed from importer Lotus Foods: Sauté one finely diced medium onion in 3 tablespoons of butter until translucent. Add two minced garlic cloves; 1 cup forbidden rice; one zested, peeled and quartered lime (save the zest); and enough water or stock to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for about an hour (add more liquid if rice looks too dry during cooking). When done, stir the lime zest into the risotto-like mixture and serve, offering hot sauce to season.

Although missing information about forbidden rice, Sri Owen’s impressive The Rice Book: The Definitive Book on the Magic of Rice Cookery, has served me well for quite a while. I highly recommend it both for recipes and reference.

For something a little more creative and flavorful than the dish described above, give forbidden rice a shot in this sweet-hot salad.


Forbidden Rice Salad with Honey-Cayenne Dressing

(Adapted from the Portland daily, The Oregonian)

Makes 8-10 servings

1/2 cup honey, room temperature
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups uncooked Chinese black rice
4 cups water
3 to 5 cups finely diced or sliced vegetables of your choice
3/4 cup pan-toasted pecans
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
Pomegranate seeds (optional garnish)

1. Make the dressing by whisking together the first 9 ingredients, then drizzle in the oil, stirring constantly to blend.

2. Place rice and water in a medium pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid, bring quickly to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 50 to 60 minutes. Don’t peek.

3. Stir cooked rice to break up clumps, then set aside to cool in a large bowl.

4. Meanwhile, combine the vegetables and half of the dressing in a medium bowl.

5. Just before serving, add vegetables to cooled rice and stir gently, adding more dressing if needed. Mix in toasted pecans and green onions, garnish (if desired) with pomegranate seeds and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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