One could write an historical epic on the virtues of rice. It’s been part of tradition and culture for millennia, representative as humanity itself. A multitude of color, shape, size, texture and purpose.
For six weeks of lockdown I got to look at the top of my neighbor’s forehead poking over my garden wall. During this intense period of isolation and anxiety, she was our connection to the human world. We exchanged ice creams, covert beers and loaves of bread. Once she even sent up her drone to drop off a lavender and fennel pollen.
Our conversations drifted over the course of this time, but we kept coming back to the idea of food security and staple ingredients as a portal of invention.
My neighbor is a photographer of beautiful objects and spaces. I like to putter in the kitchen. Together, we decided to tell the story of some of the world’s most humble ingredients and give them the ovation they deserve.
Rice can comfort. It can transport you to distant lands. Undaunted by the passing of time, it urges you to steam it, fry it, boil it, pound it. Rice is as versatile an ingredient as has ever existed but remains the most humble.
This is our homage to this simple grain.
This bowl of silky rice porridge topped with simmered beef is a moreish all day breakfast.
1 cup Jasmin rice
8-10 cups water
1 stalk lemon grass
Superfine sliced beef
1 tbs Soy sauce
1 tspToasted sesame oil
2 tbs Canola oil
1 tbs Mirin
1 garlic clove
Pinch Bonito flakes
1 Spring onion
Toasted sesame seeds
To make the congee:
Place the Jasmin rice in a heat proof bowl and cover with a cup of water. Steam in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes. The rice won’t be cooked but this heat and moisture starts to break the rice down a bit faster.
Then, add the rice to a pot containing 8 cups of cold water with the stick of bruised lemon grass.
Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid mostly covered for about 1.5 hours until silky and smooth. If you need to add a cup or two more of water do it. Use your intuition, if it begins to feel too stiff add water.
To make the beef:
You can buy beef frozen in very thin pieces from any good Asian grocery store. Otherwise ask your butcher to freeze some sirloin and then slice it with a cold cuts slicer. Or partially freeze at home and then using a severely sharp blade, slice it as thin as possible.
Slice your shallot and place into a pan with a drop or two of sesame oil and a tablespoon of canola oil, start to sweat. Add your beef and simmer. Allow the beef to brown.
Crush your garlic and add. Then bring the pan up to max and add the a tablespoon of Mirin, a tablespoon of soy and the dashi.
Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
Fill a bowl with the silky congee, place your beef and onions onto the congee, garnish with bonito flakes, spring onion and toasted sesame. Drizzle with a little more soy.
If you thought risotto was the epitome of comfort food, well, you’re in for a treat. Take that risotto, use it to envelope a creamy chunk of mozzarella, then bread it and fry it until golden. This Roman snack food is a true soul warmer.
1 cup arborio/risotto rice
1 tin whole tomatoes
1 red onion
50g guanciale (pork cheek)
50g parmigiano reggiano
50g pecorino romano
250 ml dry white wine/beer
Salt and pepper
Mozarella – preferably fior di latte
Corn flour or potato starch
3 tbs ketchup
Squeeze of lemon
A couple drops truffle oil
Splash of brown vinegar
To make the risotto:
Dice the onion finely. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy based frying pan (A head’s up: It needs to be a big pan – you’ll be stirring a lot and the mix will grow.)
Sweat the onions.
Slice the guanciale into thin chunks, add to the onions and allow the fat to become translucent. This releases more delicious flavour and creates more coating for the grains of rice.
Now add your rice. Coat thoroughly in the oil. Put in a sprig of thyme.
Once the rice is coated and the oil seems to have vanished, pour in the wine or beer.
Reduce the heat. This is the first stage of absorption.
Next open the tin of tomatoes. Either mash it or blitz it and then add a half cup of water to this. (You can heat this in a pan to keep temperature up for the risotto, but it’s not completely necessary.)
Add spoonfuls of the tomato liquid one at a time, continually stirring the mix as it swells and absorbs the liquid. Adding liquid until the rice can’t take anymore.
When the rice is cooked, (preferably with the slightest bite to it still), remove from the heat.
Add your finely grated cheeses. Stir in slowly. Once the mix is oozy and delicious and the cheese is incorporated, tip it onto a non stick tray or plate and spread evenly, then place in the fridge for 45- 60 minutes to cool.
For the breading:
In three separate mixing bowls, add the potato starch, eggs (beaten) and breadcrumbs.
Using wet hands, take the risotto and place some in the palm of your hand. Tear off a marble sized piece of mozzarella and place in the centre of the mix, close the risotto around the cheese to form a ball. Repeat until risotto mixture is finished. These can be roughly golf ball size.
Roll each ball in the starch, then into the egg and then coat with breadcrumbs.
Place them onto a board and let set in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Heat vegetable oil in a deep sided pan or a wok and fry the balls gently until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and delicious. Remove with tongs or slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to drain.
For the truffle ketchup sauce:
Squeeze the ketchup into a serving bowl. Squeeze in half a lemon, a splash of brown vinegar and then a couple of drops of truffle oil.
Serve the arancini immediately with a zesting of your favourite hard Italian cheese, generous lemon slices and your ketchup.
Hawaiian in origin, this bowl has become a global staple. A textural balancing act that mixes, pickles, fresh veg, herbs and cured salmon. Doll it up with your favorite flavors, just make sure that your rice shines as the true hero of this warm day salad.
1 cup black rice
1 tin coconut milk
200g salmon – skin on
1 medium Carrot
1 stalk Lemon grass
2 Kaffir lime leaf
1 Mediterranean Cucumber
Bunch of Coriander
1 medium Leek – white part only
2 Spring onions
5cm piece Pickled daikon
Tomago sliced -* (one portion)
1 cup Edamame
Half a cup toasted peanuts
Toasted sesame oil
Shichimi ( A Japanese spice blend available in most Asian grocery stores)
1 fresh Chilli
1 tbsp salt
Pinch coconut sugar
Toasted sesame seeds
Rice wine vinegar
Mung bean sprouts
To make the rice:
Put 1 cup black rice in a heavy based saucepan. Add 1 tin coconut milk. Take that coconut milk tin and fill it with water and add that to the rice. Bash your stalk of lemon grass and add. Place 1 kaffir lime leaf into the mix. Bring to the boil. Then reduce to simmer with lid slightly open. Let simmer for roughly 45 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Then remove from the heat and close the lid.
Allow the rice to continue to steam in the pot off the heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Once all the liquid has been absorbed into the rice, place the rice in the fridge to cool.
To make the toppings:
Remove the skin from the salmon and reserve. Then cut the salmon into 2cm cubes.
Place the cubes into a bowl with a pinch of salt, the juice of two limes, a pinch of coconut sugar, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar and a drop of toasted sesame oil. Mix together, cover with cling film and let marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Julienne your carrots and cucumber – removing the centre of the cucumber first. The sticks should be around 10cm long. Place these in a bowl with 50 ml rice wine vinegar and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and let pickle.
Steam/poach edamame. Once steamed, remove from pods and place the beans in a
bowl of ice water.
Very finely slice your pickled daikon. Julienne your leek, white part only as finely as you can. Toast 1/3 cup of peanuts and crush roughly in a pestle and mortar.
With the reserved salmon skin, sprinkle with salt and roast on 250 degrees (or as hot as your oven goes) for 5 minutes or until crispy – alternately you can fry these in oil or in an air fryer. Keep an eye on it.
Place a generous few spoonfuls of coconut rice into the bowl. Then dress the other ingredients on top of the rice, keep them separate so you can taste each individually or as a combo. Garnish with sliced spring onion, chilli, coriander, your peanuts and some Kewpie Mayo. Sprinkle with Shichimi and then give a generous squeeze of lime over the top.
Tomago* is a Japanese omelette, you’ve probably had with your sushi before. It is not a requirement but is very delicious and adds to the complexity of the dish. You can buy it ready made at some good Asian grocery stores, otherwise it is fun to make and keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.
3 eggs beaten
1 tbs dashi – use your own or buy Hondashi granules.
1 heaped tbs coconut sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat the eggs.
Heat a non stick frying pan and pour the batter into the pan as if you were making a pancake. Before the mix is completely dry, roll it to the edge of the pan and repeat the process until you have a roll of pancakes completed.
Remove the roll and place on a bamboo sushi mat.
Roll up tightly and place in the fridge to cool and set. When it’s time to use, remove the bamboo mat and slice into your desired thickness.
This rice sandwich triangle should take its place among the pantheon of sandwiches. It is a found ubiquitously in Japan. For extra textural and flavor depth, whip up a batch of crispy fried Japanese chicken and stuff it. Grill it and devour. Leave space for seconds.
1 cup Australian rice – medium gluten short grain variety
1 Sheet Nori
5cm Daikon – steamed and diced
500g boneless chicken thighs – skin on is preferable
2 cm ginger – grated
1 garlic clove – grated
1 tbs soy
5 tbs potato starch or corn starch
Oil for frying – neutral oil – canola or peanut
2 tbs Soy sauce
2 tsp Mirin
1 tbs sake
For the rice:
Begin by preparing the rice. This rice needs a little love. Take one cup of rice and put it in a mixing bowl. Fill the bowl with fresh cold water and, using your hands like a mixing claw, vigorously mix the rice. Empty the rice into a sieve, place the sieve over your bowl and cover again with cold water. Repeat the process 3 or 4 more times until the water is clear after you have “polished” your rice.
Now, get two cups of purified water and add this to your heavy based saucepan. Put your rice in and let it sit to absorb some of the water for about 30 minutes. Bring to the boil as quickly as possible. Reduce to the lowest heat and cover with a lid. Simmer for 10-14 minutes until rice is cooked. Try not to look at the rice as this lets out the heat and the steam. Take off heat, place a clean dish cloth under the lid and let it sit and cool.
If you are using an electric rice cooker, follow the cooking instructions on your device.
For the Kara Age:
Grate ginger and garlic. Place all ingredients except the chicken in a bowl and combine to make the marinade. Cut your chicken thighs into two or three pieces. Add chicken to the marinade and set aside for at least an hour. The starch will drain to the bottom of the bowl so when it comes to frying make sure to remix your marinade to coat the chicken.
Bring your oil up to temperature in a wok- it shouldn’t be smoking hot. You want a medium heat that allows the batter to brown while the chicken cooks through.
Fry chicken pieces until golden. Let them cool a little.
For the Daikon:
Peel and slice your daikon into rounds. Steam until just cooked- 7-10 minutes. This takes the raw flavour out but keeps the crunchy texture. Dice your daikon finely and place in a bowl of ice water.
Build your Onigiri:
When cool, roughly chop your chicken and mix with your daikon.
At this point you can add some Kewpie mayo to this mix if you like a sweeter stuffing for your Onigiri.
Using wet hands, take some rice, make a hollow in the middle of the rice and fill this with chicken and daikon, then close with some more rice. Roll into a tight ball and then shape into your triangle. Keep your hands moist and you’ll manage just fine.
Fold a sheet of roasted nori four or five times and using scissors, cut thin slices over a plate. Dab your Onigiri onto the nori, it will pick up some of the flecks.
Brush some soy sauce lightly over the top of your Onigiri and then transfer to a hot grill or Hibachi. Grill for a minute or two on each side until slightly caramelized.
For the Mentsuyu:
Add all the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to the boil and then simmer until reduced by half.
Serve your Onigiri with the Mentsuyu sauce, some Kewpie mayo and pickles.
100g glutinous rice flour – Available at good Asian supermarkets/ alternatively if you can’t find any and have a grain mill, buy some high gluten short grain rice and mill it into a flour.
60g sugar – Castor or in this case the icing sugar – makes for an even silkier texture.
1tsp salt – if you’re using sea salt make sure you grind it as finely as possible.
Potato starch – for dusting.
1 punnet fresh strawberries
3 -4 fresh pears
1/2 cup pecan nuts
2 cm fresh ginger – peeled and diced.
1tbs palm sugar
2 sprigs of lavender
4 juniper berries
1/2 cup water
Roasted soy bean powder
To make the fillings:
Steam the pears with the juniper berries in a bamboo steamer over a pot with 1 cup of water.
When soft, remove them from the heat. There will be a little liquid left in the pot. To this liquid, add the pecans, ginger, lavender, an extra half cup of water and the palm sugar.
Bring to a simmer. Turn the flame down and let it reduce, thickening the syrup.
While the syrup is reducing, you can prepare your Mochi mixture in a microwave-proof bowl. Add all the ingredients and mix to combine. Set aside.
Take your strawberries and cut off the storks, leaving a nice flat base on which they can stand upright.
Now, add your pears and juniper berries to the syrup. Keep reducing until there is almost no liquid remaining. Remove from the heat and tip out onto a cutting board or into a pestle and mortar. Roughly dice the mixture, don’t go too far or it becomes a paste and will lose its texture.
To make the Mochi dough:
Microwave the mix on full power for 2 minutes. Take it out and give it a stir with a fork.
The texture will be totally different – it will be kind of a wet marshmallow. Try incorporate as much of the moisture back into the dough as possible. Return the mix to the microwave for another 45 seconds to a minute until the dough is translucent.
Working fast, dust a work surface with the potato starch. Using a wet knife, divide the dough into 6 pieces and then, being careful not to burn your hands, work the dough pieces into flat rounds for the strawberries or triangles for the pear.
Place a strawberry on the board standing up, drape the dough over the point of the strawberry and pinch to close it under its base, then place it base side down.
With the triangles, place a spoonful of pear pecan mixture into the centre of the triangle and roll up into a cigar shape, pinching the ends closed before the final roll.
Fill one dish with icing sugar and one with your your roasted soy bean powder.
Roll your strawberry Mochi in the icing sugar until coated and your pear and pecan in the soy bean powder.
You can serve your Mochi sweets whole or cut in half, but after plating do another dusting of icing sugar over the whole lot.
For best results, place your sweets on a piece of baking paper in the fridge for half an hour to chill before serving.
Serve with some green tea and a slice of citrus.
It’s just an ice cream, tasting of toasted rice and sweet chai tea, staring at you in your mouth, asking you to lick it.
1 cup basmati rice toasted
1 chai teabag (we used Rooibos Chai)
100g fine white sugar
1 vanilla pod
5 egg yolks (extra large or jumbo)
3 cups full cream milk
1 tub of whipping cream
Desiccated coconut – toasted
Toast the rice in a dry pan until fragrant and golden. After, pound or work the rice in a mortar and pestle or grain mill until it just begins to crack.
Now, put the milk, cream and sugar in a heavy based saucepan. Heat slowly, place the tea bag and a vanilla pod into the mixture. Bring to the boil.
Take off the heat and add the cracked basmati rice. Let steep for 10-15 minutes. Longer if you have time or patience. The longer it steeps, the more ricey and nutty it will be.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until creamed and fluffy.
Pour the rice and milk mixture through a strainer and then slowly add this strained mix to the egg and sugar mix. Slowly combining.
Make a double boiler and then very gently heat the custard stirring continuously for 10 minutes.
At this point you can strain the mixture again to get it extra smooth.
Place into a bowl and into the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.
Now it’s ready to go into your ice cream machine – if you don’t have one, place the bowl in the freezer and continue to stir and beat every 45 minutes until creamy and delicious.
Toast some desiccated coconut and pour it into a bowl. Scoop your ice cream into a cone and roll the ice cream liberally in the coconut.
Serve with black sesame brittle (or any brittle) for an extra crunch.