Poetry Thursday #4:
It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger's orange paws.
Its stems thinner than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.
The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.
I don't want you just to sit down at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk out into the fields
where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with the mud, like a blessing.
Rice by Mary Oliver
It's time for Poetry Thursday again, except it's already Friday. Okay, so I had missed my deadline for posting this, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity of sharing this poem and recipe with you. Better late than never, as they say!
Mary Oliver's poem sums up my feelings about rice, what a blessing it is to be able to have it. Whenever I eat rice, it's normally the white or polished variety, because that's what I was brought up on and for a long time, that was the only kind of rice I thought existed. Well, that was all before I went off to study and live abroad. Then on, I discovered there are actually a mind-boggling variety and categories of rice such as wholegrain, black, brown, red, long/medium/short-grained and fragrant, with names such as Wehani, Forbidden, Basmati, Jasmine, even Risotto Rice. Rice is not just a cereal, it seems; it's also the powerful seed of civilization.
And yes, what a pleasant education I'd gotten when I experienced eating rice cooked in a variety of ways other than the standard fried rice, which was the glammed-up version of my white rice while growing up. Sushi, paella, risotto, pudding, biryani, crispy rice, even rice-crumbs taking the place of bread crumbs! We may be forgiven for overlooking the fact that rice is such an international staple, but we certainly cannot dismiss its importance and versatility in cooking. How lucky we are that on whichever beaten (or unbeaten) path we choose to travel on, it is likely that we'll come across rice in the forms of many types of cuisine. Rice is as ubiquitous as potatoes, which makes us double-lucky, I suppose!
Now that we are grown up and have long left the nest (except when there's something that needs to be urgently borrowed - usually in the form of a very large/unusual kitchen item), my parents decided that cultivating their own rice supply would be a good activity to fill up their time. Well, they don't actually break their backs doing all the hard work themselves, they do have plenty of help, but are out there in the fields during important times like sowing and harvesting. Twice a year, during harvest times, my parents' backyard is turned into a tiny rice production area, complete with mill and makeshift scarecrows! And there would be sacks and sacks of short-grained rice, inaugurated with the name "Laila", our national rice. We would be eating the rather bland-tasting Laila rice for months after each harvest time until we got sick of it and would revert back to our usual fragrant rice. Terrible, I know. But tastebuds have a memory more powerful than we often give them credit for.
Last week, I'd picked up a pack of Thai fragrant red-brown rice, which is mildly glutinous or sticky when cooked. I hadn't tried cooking this type of rice before so I confess that I only knew about the stickiness over the process of creating this dish. For the uninitiated, brown or "hulled" rice is unmilled or partly milled rice, a kind of whole grain. It has a mild nutty flavor, is chewier than white rice, becomes rancid more quickly, but is far more nutritious. In much of Asia, brown rice was rarely eaten except by the sick, the elderly and as a cure for constipation. LOL, my decision had nothing whatsoever to do with any of these three reasons... Just so you know, this traditionally denigrated kind of rice is now more expensive than common white rice, partly due to its low consumption, difficulty of storage and transport, and higher nutritional value.
Similar to brown rice, red rice has undergone minimal processing, still has its bran layers and takes 45-50 minutes to cook. Brown and red rice are somewhat chewy, fiber-rich and chock-full of B vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. Red rice also has a nutty flavor, but many find it more savory than brown rice. It's also being used in the baby food industry and is now very popular in the health-conscious market.
With all this new knowledge in mind, I set about to cook up something healthy, something savory, something delicious, something spicy (yeah, baby), with a dash of sweetness in the form of apples. Yes, apples. I had the gut feeling that crisp apples, soft-grilled eggplant, chillies, lemongrass and ginger would all go very well with the red-brown rice. And guess what? I was absolutely right!
2-3 cups red-brown rice, washed and drained
1 red chilli pepper, seeded and sliced
1 green chilli pepper, seeded and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, sliced
1 stick lemongrass, slice thinly (white part only)
2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise
1 apple, cored and sliced thinly3 tablespoon olive oil
chive oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons olive oil, to saute
sea salt and pepper, to taste
1. Wash and boil the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove until cooked (follow the instructions on the packet). Set aside to cool slightly before use.
2. Sprinkle chive oil , sea salt and pepper onto one side of the sliced eggplants and grill in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning over once. Set aside for assembly.
3. Grind or blend the garlic, shallots, ginger and lemongrass using a food processor or mortar and pestle. Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the spices until fragrant and lightly brown. Add the chillies and stir for a bout 2 minutes.
4. Add the cooked rice, stir well and lastly add the sliced apples. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.
5. To assemble dish, arrange the grilled eggplants on a plate and place spicy rice on top. This dish is best eaten while hot, so serve immediately.