If you think that rice is rice, you don't know beans about this family of great grains.
New varieties of rice are being developed around the world, creating a bonanza for home cooks who want to go beyond basic white. Specialty rices now make up 10 percent of all rice eaten in the United States. There isn't room to list even a fraction of the varieties available, but here are a dozen, including old favorites and some that may not be quite as familiar.
Follow package directions when cooking colored rices, but test them for doneness before serving: taste a forkfull or squeeze a grain between your fingers. Either way, you shouldn't feel a hard center in the rice grain. If you do, a few more minutes on the stove may be needed.
Colored rices will often transfer their hues to the foods they're cooked with, so prepare them in a separate pan if that is a concern.
1. Himalayan Red: Salmon pink when cooked, this is one of the more flavorful of the colored rices with a taste similar to wheat or nuts. Its chewy texture serves as a good counterpoint to stir-frys. Available: Asian, Indian groceries; health food and gourmet stores.
2. Chinese Black: Turns a very dark, almost indigo color after cooking with a slightly nutty flavor and a pleasant, almost floral aftertaste. Serve as a side dish as you would brown rice, or in such mixtures as stuffings and puddings. Available: Asian and Indian groceries; health food and gourmet stores.
3. Colusari Red: This chewy rice has a light nutty-popcorn-like flavor. It works well as a side dish and in salads and stuffings. Available: Indian Harvest Specialtifoods Inc. (800-294-2433).
4. Black Japonica: This rice has a chewier texture than other rices and a starchy flavor that works well as a side dish and in salads and stuffings. It combines well with other rices. Available: health food and gourmet stores; larger supermarkets.
5. Purple Thai: Also called Purple Thai Sticky Rice, this is a flavorful rice with a faintly fruity taste, though not sweet. Used for rice pudding, but also delicious in savory dishes, such as salads. Available: Asian and Indian groceries; health food and gourmet stores.
6 and 7. Short-Grain: The rice to use when you prefer a stickier texture and a softer grain after cooking. It pairs well with many Asian dishes and is used in dishes such as paella and risotto. Available: larger supermarkets; gourmet stores; Italian markets. One popular type of short-grain rice is Arborio. Grown in both America and Italy, it is sometimes labeled Risotto Rice and is most often used in the Italian rice dish called risotto. When cooked, Arborio rice produces a slightly chewy, creamy exterior that is firm to the bite. Available: supermarkets; Italian groceries; gourmet and health food stores.
Medium-Grain: A slightly sticky rice that cooks up tender and plump with a neutral taste. Use it in desserts, pancakes, risotto, or paella. Available: supermarkets.
8. Brown: With its nutty taste and chewy texture, this unpolished rice tastes best when paired with strong seasonings and sauces. Available: supermarkets.
9. Brown and Wild Rice mix: The strong, nutty taste of wild rice (which is actually a long-grain marsh grass native to the U.S.) is mellowed when paired with brown rice. Use it as a side dish for boldly flavored meats. Available: supermarkets.
10. Jasmine: This rice has a mild popcorn aroma. Grains swell lengthwise only; they don't plump up. Jasmine rice is soft and slightly sticky. Use as an accompaniment to stir-fry dishes. Available: larger supermarkets; Asian and Indian groceries; health food and gourmet stores.
11. Basmati: Like jasmine rice, this has a popcorn aroma. When cooked, its long grains separate well. This is an excellent rice to pair with stir-fry dishes and other Asian-inspired meals. Available: larger supermarkets; Asian and Indian groceries; health food and gourmet stores.
12. Long-Grain: About three-quarters of the rice consumed in America is long grain. This rice's neutral taste and firm texture make it a perfect side dish with almost anything. When cooked, grains remain separate and fluffy. Available: supermarkets.
A switch from regular rice; this crisp chicken salad gets extra crunch from rice noodles.
1. In a heavy, deep 3-quart saucepan or deep-fat fryer heat oil to 375 degrees F. Cook half the noodles at a time for 10 to 15 seconds or till puffed. Drain on paper towels. Break up slightly and set aside.
2. In a large skillet or wok mix together the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, coriander, and paprika. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer 6 to 8 minutes or till slightly thickened. Add chicken or pork, cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or till meat is no longer pink inside. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.
3. Toss ingredients in a large bowl; or to create an arranged salad, divide 3/4 of the fried rice noodles among 4 salad plates. Top with salad greens and spoon meat mixture onto salad greens. Top with bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro, remaining fried noodles, and peanuts. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition facts per serving: 357 cal., 13 g total fat (2 g sat. fat), 31 mg chol., 797 mg sodium, 45 g carbo., 2 g fiber, and 18 g pro. Daily Values: 11% vit. A, 13% vit. C, 4% calcium, and 15% iron.