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Rice keeps well so it makes a perfect item to keep on hand. You can keep a few different types of rice in your pantry and you will always have the base for a good meal. For example, you can make Spanish Rice, Shrimp Fried Rice or a risotto. All of these are great one pan meals and require only a few fresh ingredients. Rice does, of course, make a great side dish especially with those recipes that have a lot of sauce or gravy.
What types should you keep on hand?
First off, the classifications for rice are short, medium and long grain. Long grain rice are of the subspecies Indica, while the shorter are Japonica. Long grain rice is about four to five times as long as it is wide and has lighter, fluffier, and separate grains when cooked. Because the starch content is lower, the rice doesn't stick together as easily as medium or short grain rice. Basmati and jasmine rice are examples of high quality long grain rice. Both have light aromatic flavors and go great with Asian and Indian dishes.
Short grain rice is slightly rounded and plump. Its higher starch content makes for a creamy rice and, when cooked, the grains tend to stick together. Rice for sushi is made from short grain rice. Arborio rice is also a short grain rice with a very high starch content that is the basis for Italian risotto as well as Spanish Paella (although there are a wide variety of Italian and Spanish rice that you can choose from including baldo, carnaroli and calasparra).
Start by stocking your cupboard with brown rice. There is no doubt that it is the healthiest choice since it has not been refined like white rice which has had the good bits - the bran and germ - stripped away (that's where the fiber and a lot of the nutrients are).
White rice gets a bad rap, I believe. I understand that as white ingredients have been vilified in the last few decades. Don't get me wrong, I agree that there are a lot of foods made with refined ingredients that end up being white because all of the goodness has been taken out of them - white flour, white sugar, cornstarch, etc.. As such, rice gets lumped into the category of refined ingredients and, that's right, white rice is refined with much the goodness stripped away but, like using sugar or white flour in the right application, white rice has a place in your cupboard.
In the end, white rice is about everything that is wrong about how we look at food because what really matters it is what you pair the rice with. Yes, alone white rice is refined but when you put it with onions, celery, peppers, tomatoes and other great ingredients, you make a great dish.
The bran layer in brown rice is high in fiber and other nutrients but it is the lovely nutty flavor and chewier texture that makes brown rice so appealing. I think that you can use brown rice in almost any application that calls for white rice. It simply takes longer to cook and requires more water.
That brings up a bit of a controversy. Do you cook rice with just the right amount of water or do you cook it in a large pot with a lot of water until the rice is done and then drain the excess water away? Personally, I don't really care. I do prefer to use just as much water as needed (I use 1 1/2 cups of water for 1/4 cup white rice and 2 1/4 cups of water for brown and other rice). There is a lot of carbohydrate goodness that gets cooked into the water that I don't want to lose but I prefer my rice a bit stickier and it's easier to make rice where the grains don't stick together by using more water and draining.
There are a few other types that you might want to keep in hand. I love purple sticky rice also known as Thai sweet rice. It has a sweet yet also savory flavor and as it cooks the carbohydrates help create a lovely sticky sauce. If you can find it, purple rice is great with Asian dishes like this Seared Tuna with Sake-Wasabi Sauce.
Wild rice is a grass that is indigenous to the Americas. There are a numbers of species of wild rice and I love the black version best (here's more on wild rice).
I do get questions about Minute Rice every now and then. It's not terrible but it's not great either. The rice has been parboiled to being almost done and then dried so it only takes about 5 minutes to make. You are better off making quinoa or even couscous if you want something quick.
S. Harlan, MD, FACP
1/4 cup uncooked brown rice = 170 calories, 1g fat, 0g sat fat, 0.5g mono fat, 4g protein, 36g carbohydrates, 3mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol
1/4 cup uncooked rice = 176 calories, <1g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 3g protein, 39g carbohydrates, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol
1/4 cup raw wild rice = 143 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 g mono fat, 6 g protein, 30 g carbohydrates, 3 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, Vitamin K 1 mcg