We bet you didn't know this:
The Great Wall of China is glued together with sticky rice. Builder mixed calcium bicarbonate and porridge made with sticky rice to glue one stone to another, and the Wall is still standing strong today.
Rice is probably one of the most versatile and commonly used grains around the world. Growing up in East Asia, I knew of white rice served plain or made into fried rice, rice noodles, dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, and porridge.
Singapore and its neighbors would be most familiar with the long grain Jasmine rice. Beyond the region, there are so many more types of rice grains used in countless parts of the world that it's almost impossible to name them all. Here are a few rice dishes that transformed simple plain rice into flavorful, nutritious meals.
Technically, Pilaf refers to how the dish is cooked: mix uncooked rice into sautéed onion, garlic, and spice, cooked in broth until all the liquid is absorbed. Experts believe Pilaf could have been invented in India before it became an essential staple across the Middle East today, with each country horning their national recipes. You may also find meat, raisins, or nuts in some Pilaf recipes. Pilaf is typically made with Basmati rice, a firm, dry grain; it stays fluffy and separated after cooking, making it the ideal texture for this dish.
There are many stories associated with the orgin of Biryani, but it is likely that it orginated in Persia and brough to India later on. While some may think Biryani is very similar to Pilaf, they are cooked very differently. Basmati rice is used, just like in Pilaf, but the rice is usually partially boiled and drained before going into the dish. Biryani also requires a more "layered" approach: spices and meat, mostly chicken or lamb, are prepared separately before everything is put together for the final steam. Result? A rich dish with multiple layers of flavor as you dig in.
No proud Italian would ever allowed Risotto to be compared to any other rice dish around the world. It is a dish that requires a lot of tender loving care. Starchy short-grain rice Arborio is normally used, but those in the know would probably prefer Carnaroli rice for a creamier version or Vialone Nano for different textures. Ingredients, cooking temperature, time, and stirring all make a difference to the final dish. A classic recipe calls for onion, broth or stock, white wine, and cheese. It is a creamy rice dish, and every region in Italy has its variations with meat, seafood, or vegetable.
Do not confuse the Spanish Paella with the Italian Risotto, or you will lose your Spanish friend forever. Paella is typically made with rice. Another significant difference is that Paella is cooked in large flat pans that allow the liquid to dry, and it doesn't require constant stirring while Risotto does. Peas, onion, tomatoes, saffron, bell peppers are common ingredients, together with broth or stock. Seafood, rabbit or chorizos, are often the proteins used in Paella.
Shanghai Vegetable Rice
The Chinese do have a very similar dish even though it's not as well known as fried rice. It started with the wives of harbor workers having to scrap together meals for the husbands with whatever little they had. Mixing leftovers and rice with a bit of oil became the staple for these working husbands. The dish has come a long way and is now a gourmet that is found only in traditional Shanghainese restaurants. The typical rice used can be either Japonica or Indica. Rice is first booked, then mixed with chopped greens and sauteed Shanghainese bacon. Lard and sesame oil is often added for extra fragrance.
As you can see, these are all one-plate meals that are made up of rice, spices and herbs, vegetables, and protein. While we have talked about refined white rice alone may not be adequate nutrition-wise, the herbs, spices, vegetables, and protein added can bring all that you need together into one plate.
As we have discussed in our other articles, the more colorful your dish is, the more nutrients you are likely to have covered. You can't go wrong with a dish made with wholesome natural ingredients.