Rice fit for royalty
Once you taste it, and especially when you learn about all its benefits, the biggest question about forbidden rice might be: Why on Earth forbid it?
Legend has it that this Chinese black rice got its name because it was so nutritionally beneficial that only the emperors were allowed to eat it. That was then, this is now, and the rice is easier to come by.
It has all the good fiber of brown rice, but that black (really dark-purple) hue indicates the presence of so much more: the antioxidants known as anthocyanins that are also in blueberries, acai and grapes (but without the sugar).
Enough about nutrition. It’s also stunning on a plate and delicious on the palate – nutty, even a little fruity. And it cooks in a half-hour, a quarter to half the time it takes to wrestle brown rice to doneness.
How to use it? Well, it can do anything other rices can do, but it has a particularly nice, somewhat chewy texture, which to my mind makes it perfect for stir-frying, especially with other hearty ingredients. I spied a treatment for such in the new Cooking With an Asian Accent, by Ying Chang Compestine. The recipe combines the rice with egg, mushrooms, almonds and a little ham. I subbed tofu for the ham, but the dish didn’t shine until I sprinkled on the garnish: almonds, scallions and, surprisingly, dried cranberries.
You might not think they’d work, but they do. As does the rice. Nothing this good should be the sole province of royalty.
Forbidden Rice With Eggs, Tofu and Mushrooms
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
11/2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (may use cooked ham)
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup fresh or frozen/defrosted green peas
2 cups cooked, cooled black rice (see note)
1/4 cup raw, unsalted almonds, toasted and crushed (see note)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Beat the eggs, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Stir in half of the scallions.
Pour the oil into a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or wok over medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and swirl the pan so it’s coated with the mixture. Cook without stirring until the egg is softly set, a few minutes. Break up the egg mixture with a spatula. Add the tofu, shiitakes, peas and cooked rice. Stir-fry until the rice is heated through and the mushrooms have collapsed, 5 minutes.
Taste, and stir in a little more soy sauce as desired.
Sprinkle with the remaining scallions, the almonds and the cranberries, and serve hot.
NOTES: For 2 cups black rice, first rinse 1 cup uncooked rice 2 or 3 times in a strainer. Then combine it with 13/4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for a few minutes, then fluff. Cool before using in a stir-fry, or serve immediately if using as a side dish.
Toast the almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant, shaking the pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using. Serves 4.
Adapted from “Cooking With an Asian Accent,” by Ying Chang Compestine