Not to go on about brown rice, but…
No, wait a minute. I AM going on about brown rice. Why should I apologize? It’s better for you than ninety per cent of the rest of the food world, and it tastes great, too. This is something I have never understood: why is it that something is good for you, or good for the planet, or good for anything at all trails behind it this reputation for being wussy, or foolish, or not quite pukka? Why is that? It’s enough to make you believe in the devil.
But that’s way off the subject…maybe. Anyway, back to brown rice, and the brand that I particularly love, Lundberg’s organic brown rice, grown by a family operation in California, so you can see the miles and miles of rice fields if you drive (as I unfortunately do now and then) up and down the otherwise monotonous and slightly alienating Highway Five. It’s a relief to see those rice fields. Cheers me right up. Even better for that long drive from Oregon to Los Angeles than cruise control.
So our local co-op takes a quite enlightened attitude toward food costs, and even though it’s dead expensive for a number of items (don’t get me started on how much they charge for whole wheat pasta), has this program called “Basic Pricing.” Which means that certain key items throughout the store, which if you buy them are enough to sustain a decent level of delicious nutrition, are priced as low as the co-op can manage to price them. Things like New Sammy’s Whole Wheat Bread (delicious), certain kale and chard greens (also delicious), line caught tuna (terrifically delicious), and so on.
Of course Lundberg brown rice, both long and short grain, benefits from this. Which makes it, per pound, half the price of the same rice in other stores in the vicinity. So all of us around here go to the co-op and stock up.
Naturally, as is always the case no matter where you are, the local conversation frequently turns to food. It turned, the other night when I sat with two of my neighbors, to brown rice. The first neighbor remarked that she never cooks more than she needs for the evening, “Because there’s really nothing you can do with leftover brown rice.”
Well, it was as if an electric shock had gone through me and the second neighbor (this happens a lot, this kind of sudden animation and vehemence, in any food conversation, about any kind of food, anywhere in the world — it’s always a great topic if you can’t think of anything else to say to a stranger). We both sat up straight and said, almost at the same time, “Nothing you can do!”
“Oh my God,” the second neighbor said. “I make a huge pot of it on Sunday, and reheat it all week when I get home. You just put a little water in a pan, dish as much rice out as you need, mix it all up, and stick it in a 350° oven till dinner’s ready.”
“Fried rice!” I said vigorously. ” With mushrooms and fish sauce and scallions and cilantro and shredded lettuce and egg and frozen peas!”
“Rice salad! I toss it with salad dressing and leftover veggies and take it to work for lunch…”
“Rice pancakes,” I said, more dreamily this time. “Mixed with a little egg and garlic and milk, fried in butter…”
“…sometimes I wrap it in a tortilla or stick it in a pita bread with some lettuce and yoghurt…”
“Reheated refried beans and leftover brown rice wrapped in whole wheat tortillas, topped with avocado, shredded carrot, a little sour cream….”
“Rice pudding! Oh my God, I love brown rice pudding with heavy cream!”
“Savory rice pudding! Add onion and cheese instead of brown sugar and cinnamon! And if you add frozen spinach sauteed in olive oil…”
“Pilaf! Mix it with butter sauteed almonds and raisins, some minced parsley, more melted butter, heat it up…”
“Layer it with sour cream and green chiles and jack cheese, bake it till it’s bubbly, serve it with corn tortillas and salsa and guacamole…”
The second neighbor and I looked at each other, and burst out laughing at our own enthusiasm. And the first neighbor admitted defeat, and accepted that there were a lot more options than she had at first perceived. We finished up an amiable glass of wine, hugged each other good night, and they went home, leaving me to fix my solitary dinner.
Then I went to the refrigerator and looked at the comforting pot of cold brown rice on the top shelf. And this is what I had that night:
Garlic Fried Rice with Bacon and Eggs
I had a very thick slice of bacon — the one lonely slice left from a thrifty package of bacon ends — in the freezer, so I took that out and cut it into thick batons. Fried that in a little peanut oil while I sliced about three cloves of garlic (you can use just one clove, but in my opinion if you’re going to have garlic fried rice, then you should have GARLIC FRIED RICE), which I then gently fried along with the bacon until the bacon was crisp on the edges, and the garlic near golden.
Then I scooped out the bacon and garlic into the bowl I planned to eat out of when it was all done, and left the fat in the frying pan. Added as much brown rice as I thought I could eat that night (about a cup and a half, cooked), salted it, and turned it around in the fat until the chill was off it and the clumps unclumped. Then I added back the bacon and garlic, and turned the heat down to low.
Two eggs. I cracked each one carefully into a cup, to make sure it didn’t break (half of the charm of this dish for me is the unbroken yolk spurting out over the garlic rice when I stick a chopstick into it at the table), and then even more carefully slid each egg into slight depressions on the top of the rice. Sprinkled a little coarse salt over the eggs, clapped a lid on the pan, and set the timer for 7 minutes. Poured myself a glass of water (which is the best drink for this recipe, except for, maybe, beer — wine is just too genteel here) and got out a pair of chopsticks. Rooted around in the frig and found a jar of pickled peppers, which I like to spoon on top of the rice with their vinegar, the way they do in the Philippines, and put that on the table with the water and chopsticks.
At seven minutes, I checked the eggs. The whites were done and the yolks barely set, and I silently thanked the food gods that my timing was right. (Otherwise I would have left the dish on for a minute or two more, all the while anxiously hovering to make sure it didn’t get to that horrible point where the yolks, instead of being unctuously liquid, turn hard like little yellow tiles.) Well, it was right. In fact, it was perfect. And I sat down with my chopsticks and my vinegared peppers, and my glass of water, and a good book (Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cookery), and was as happy as it’s possible for a solitary diner to be.
And all this thanks to brown rice. So I really can’t be blamed for going on about it, after all.