A leaving home conversation, Chinese style:
“Mom, I’m moving out.”
“OK? Is that are you’re gonna say?”
“Hm, no. Do get a good rice cooker before you go.”
Being Chinese, I probably learned how to operate a rice cooker before a toaster: Add rice, add water, press the button, go take a shower, and come back to perfectly cooked rice. The whole boiling water, standing by a pot, stirring and fluffing rice thing, I never got. I also can’t understand why you would eat rice that comes out of Uncle Ben’s bag, either. I never believed that was real rice.
While flipping through a dinner menu one night, I had a discussion with my best friend on how restaurants like to make dishes sound special by specifying that Jasmine rice was used. We both agreed that is stupid, as Jasmine rice is just “plain old rice” to us, being the only rice Chinese families grow up on. We don’t consider it fancy, and we most certainly don’t call it “aromatic”. To us, that is just how “plain old rice” is supposed to taste and smell. However, I pointed out that I myself often make that very distinction but for a different purpose: I don’t want to impart that I am eating another type of long grain rice, particularly basmati, which I don’t like. In fact, it wasn’t until I tried basmati rice that I realize just how tasty Jasmine rice is. Basmati pales in comparison in flavor and aroma, and is rather bland to my palate. It is no wonder that Chinese people eat plain rice, cooked in water, day after day for all their lives – because Jasmine rice is actually tasty. I guess what is also true is that in Asian cuisine, rice is the backdrop that carries all the main dishes. It is meant to bring an equillibrium to the meal, since all the various dishes can be strongly flavored, and each differently so. Which is why we enjoy rice so … “undressed”.
As a child my favorite thing to do (the only “dressing up” of rice I ever did) was to take a big pat of butter and mix it into my bowl of hot rice. None of this browning in a skillet thing – my butter rice is dead simple, probably not the healthiest, and delicious. When I saw a recipe of herbed rice in The Best of Cooking Light, I decided to do something with a few of the staples I have in the kitchen.
Herbed “Plain Old” Rice
I use Thai brown Jasmine rice, which I love because it has a nice chewiness to it. Instead of cooking it in water as I always do, I used dashi broth. I then chopped Chinese Trinity (cilantro, green onions, and fresh ginger) into very fine bits. You could use a blender for this, but I just knifed through it because I like to cut things up. I used about a 4:4:1 ratio of cilantro: green onion: ginger. I mixed this into the rice once it has finished cooking (in the rice cooker, of course), using about 2 tablespoons of herb mixture to 1 cup of cooked rice. That’s it.
It was nice – not too salty but not bland – and I liked the look of the greenish specks. Next time, though, I would use much less ginger, or just omit it. I love ginger, but it was a little too much zing for this rice, and I had wanted to taste more of the cilantro and green onions instead. (It’s probably fine if ginger-rice was what you were after though.) Definitely worth a second try and some further experimentation with different ingredients. I have a few ideas brewing in my head…
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