Monthly Archives: December 2008

In Praise of Brown Rice

I know there are a lot of you out there who think of brown rice along the same lines as you think of Birkenstocks.  Hemp clothing.  Rasta locks on young white guys.  And I know every time anyone mentions it to you, an inadvertent pained look crosses your face, and you respond automatically with defensive thoughts of double vodka martinis, rare steaks, potatoes, and chocolate cake.

But brown rice isn’t like that.  Not really.  Not in its heart of hearts.  If you knew brown rice like I know brown rice, you wouldn’t just give it a chance, you’d welcome it into your home.  Invite it to meet guests.  Maybe even vote for it for high office.

Brown rice is absolutely terrific.  And I say this as a person who really doesn’t think all that much about health in my food choices.  Wait, scratch that.  I do think about health, but only in the sense of whether or not what I eat makes me feel good.  I never take vitamins.  They just scratch my throat and don’t do much for me one way or the other.  I do eat a lot of salads.  I love the way they taste, plus they make me feel light and energized.  And that, after all, is part of the pleasure of eating.  Sometimes you like to feel full and like you can’t move an inch before you’ve digested.  Sometimes you don’t.  It’d be weird, I think, if you felt one way or the other all the time.

Brown rice, properly approached, will not just be your friend, it will be your friend for life.  It has a nutty, deep, satisfying taste to it, when you make it right (which, by the way, all that moaning on the part of white rice enthusiasts notwithstanding is just not that hard), and you feel great after you’ve eaten it.  It goes with a lot of stuff.  And, as a lagniappe on the side, it’s allegedly terrific for you.  So, I mean, what’s not to like?

I like it a lot.  I think I’ve made that clear.  And after a lifetime spent loving white rice, I find, to my surprise, that when there’s a choice,
I spurn my former love.  This is a taste thing, not a health thing.  Trust me on this.

It’s easy to cook brown rice.  Just measure a cup of the stuff into a pot, salt it, and add two scant cups of water.  Bring to a boil.  Cover it.  Turn the heat down as low as you can (I use a flame tamer), and set the timer for 55 minutes.  Turn it off and let it sit for 10 minutes or so — you needn’t fuss about this; just as much or as little time as you need to get the rest of the meal together.  Fluff with a fork.  Eat in any one of a number of ways.

Or:  bring a huge pot of water to a boil.  Salt.   Add as much rice as you want (1 cup will feed two generously as a main course, or four as a side dish…or…).  Boil till a grain is tender — about 45 minutes.  Drain without being too fussed about getting all the water out.  Put in a buttered casserole dish and stick in the oven, set on low, say 250 degrees, till you’re ready to eat it.  Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes…it can wait this way an hour.

Now…about what you DO with it…have it plain with butter and soy sauce (I love this; they call it ‘children’s rice’ in Japan)…use it as the landing for a stir fry…put something on top of it, to soak up the juices, a piece of marinated broiled fish, a skewer of lamb kebabs, chicken adobo…

It was chicken adobo that made me want to tell you about brown rice.  I cooked a cup of rice to go with the original chicken dish, and then had all these leftovers.  So I put the chicken I hadn’t eaten on top of the leftover rice, deglazed the chicken pot with a half cup of water, poured THAT on top of the chicken, and, slapping a lid on it, stuck it in the frig.

When I got home last night, tired and hungry, I just stuck the pot in a 350 degree oven.  After about a half hour, the house started to smell wonderful.  After forty five minutes, and a revivifying glass of wine, I pulled it out, spooned it onto a plate with some grated carrot salad, and had at it.  Halfway through, I noticed I was making little noises of pleasure.  That rice had soaked up the extra juices and steamed in them, and crisped a little bit at the bottom, and tasted not just heavenly, but the way dinner would taste in heaven after you’d had a long day cloud jumping.  I looked down at my plate and said a ‘thank you’ out loud.

(By the way, chicken adobo is a Filipino dish of chicken legs and thighs cooked in vinegar and soy sauce with lots of garlic and bay leaves and peppercorns until the chicken soaks up the liquid and browns in its own fat.  The carrot salad I had with it, both nights, was just grated carrot mixed with minced green onion, tossed with a little sugar mixed in a little lime juice, a little fish sauce and chili oil added.  Terrific.  Less expensive and tasted infinitely better than any handful of vitamins, and probably a lot healthier for you, too.)

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Turkey Soup

There’s something really satisfying about just tossing what otherwise might be thought of as holiday detritus into a  pot and, while you’re sprawling on the sofa in the vicinity of your loved ones, sharing an evening of post festivity digestion, knowing that lunch for the next day is cooking up with hardly a finger lifted on your part.  Which is just as well, because after making the holiday meal, lifting said finger is just more effort than you’re willing to, at that moment, sign on for.

Turkey Soup.  The inevitable and lovely luncheon for the day after.  When, next day,  everyone comes trooping in from the cold, from the walk they all felt they had to take in the woods, after the ingestion the night before of the heritage brined turkey (fabulous, and cooked in half the time expected, because, we decided as we ate, it wasn’t bung full of God Knows What injected in the Torture Farm where the usual butterball is raised), potatoes mashed with cream and butter and cheddar and green onions, carrots cooked in cream…and a wild variety of homemade cookies…among other things…when everyone sits down at the lunch table, needing nourishment, but feeling just the tiniest bit jaded in the taste buds, that is when Turkey Soup really comes into its own.

Of course, the traditional Turkey Soup is even easier than the one I essayed this year, being made up of, literally, leftovers:  mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, stuffing, all mingled with a broth.  But I  didn’t make any stuffing this year, and there weren’t any potatoes or carrots left, thanks to some very interested teenagers.  And, also, I had my own cravings.  The cook is allowed to have these.  The artist cannot be denied her inspiration. It’s part of the deal.

However, I do know my family of origin.  Hard core traditionalists.  Suspicious, even, of garlic mayonnaise if it’s served on any Anglo holiday.

So I cannily had some minestrone in the freezer, which I brought out and warmed up in case there might be an initial difficulty luring said traditionalists outside of their comfort zone.  And then I merrily put the terrifically rich turkey broth I’d made the night before together with some sliced celery and mushrooms, a lot of garlic, a little soy sauce, some cooked brown rice, what was left of the minimal wine gravy I’d made to go with the bird (pan drippings deglazed with red wine, then a little butter swished in off the heat; irresistible even with brined pan drippings — or maybe because of, come to think of it).  At the last minute, a bag of frozen spinach, and a lot of chopped green onions.

Sure enough, everyone but me went for the minestrone first.  Everyone but me and my canny eighteen year old nephew who had already won major points by declining an all day hike in favor of the meal (“What?  Miss one of Aunt Tod’s lunches?  No way!”).  He just looked at me when he got to the two faintly bubbling pots on the stove, and all it took was a slight nudge of my head toward the turkey soup to send him, happily, in the same direction, announcing as he filled his bowl that he was going to have the minestrone AFTER.

The sight and smell of that Turkey Soup at his place and at mine had all the minestrone eaters pausing in midbite.  They sniffed the air.  I noticed one of my brothers covertly watching my nephew to see his reaction.  At the look of pure bliss that swept over my nephew’s face, my brother finished his own bowl with a contemplative air and then got up to go back to the stove.  Came back with a steaming golden bowl of that Strange Turkey Soup.  Sipped it and said, without even a grudging hint to his voice, “Okay.  This is the best Turkey Soup I ever had.  I wouldn’t’ve believed it when I heard that stuff about mushrooms and brown rice, but I gotta…”  His voice trailed off and he went back to eating with a faint smile.

One by one, the other minestrone eaters got up and got new helpings, too.  And there were faint smiles all around the table.

Even on my vegetarian husband’s face.  He, of course, stuck to the minestrone.  But he was the only one who ate it topped with garlic mayonnaise.  It’s impossible for him to eat garlic mayonnaise without a smile.

But for the Turkey Soup, here’s how:


First make your Turkey Broth.  I’ve seen recipes that say a brined turkey doesn’t make a good broth, and I can’t figure out what they mean.  That brined turkey made a particularly rich, gelatinous, delicious broth in our house.  But on reflection, it’s possible that this is because the original turkey was one of Dawn the Egg Lady’s turkeys, one of the ones that used to run about her front yard, dodging the new puppy, and heading for the family compost heap for the stray squash seeds there.  I mean, these were well exercised, happy turkeys (insofar as a turkey can be said to be happy, I guess), and the one I got was no different.  So maybe this recipe should start:  “Take the carcass of a happy bird.”

So.  Take the carcass of a happy bird.  Just toss the cleaned bones from the plates returning empty to the kitchen after dinner into a large stock pot  that already holds the turkey neck, giblets, and cleaned trimmings from the vegetables you served with the main meal (in this case, celeriac peelings, carrot peelings and ends, celery ends and tops), a few cloves of unpeeled garlic (I tossed in a whole head), a few peppercorns, and a bay leaf.  If you feel up to it, take whatever meat is left from the turkey carcass, store separately, chop the bones up and toss them in, too.  Simmer until it smells terrific and tastes unctuous — about an hour, but I never keep track, and it doesn’t hurt it to go longer.   This last simmer can happen that night, or the next morning.  If your house is normally heated — if you’re not one of those people who keeps it like a hothouse year round — you can even just leave the pot out on the stove and bring it to a boil first thing in the morning, before turning it down to the simmer.

About an hour before lunch, drain the finished broth into another pot through a colander; throw out the detritus left (or save it, minus the bones, to feed your dogs like I do).  For the soup, use as much broth as you think you’ll need for the family (take out the rest and freeze for later dishes).  Add to this about a cup of sliced mushrooms, as much sliced celery as you have left in the frig (say, about half a bunch), a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, and some of the drippings from the turkey.  A little red wine, if you have some left from the night before, doesn’t come amiss, but isn’t at all necessary.

Cook this about fifteen minutes, half an hour.  Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Correct the seasoning — you might want to add a little more soy sauce.  You can turn off the heat now, and let it wait a half hour or so before the final touch, if you like.  Right before you call everyone to fill their bowl, bring the soup back to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, add as much chopped or shredded turkey meat as you like, a handful or two of whatever cooked starch you have in the frig (I had a choice of cooked white beans, cooked whole wheat fusilli, or cooked brown rice, and went for the last on the theory that it was the only starch not already found in the minestrone), and a bag, if you have it, of frozen spinach.  Heat through.  Serve with a bowl of chopped green onions to sprinkle on top at will.  Anything left over in the green onion department can be added to the leftover soup to serve as the cook’s lunch the day after THAT.

Happy lunch.  And afterwards, if you’re at all like my family, you’ll find your thoughts and conversation turning to Christmas dinner….

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