No matter what kind you like best — jasmine, arborio, bomba, basmati — rice offers a lot of goodness in a small bag. Most rice is white or ivory-colored, but a rainbow of varieties exists — red, brown, purple, and even black.
I was introduced to black rice in a cooking class taught by chef Michelle Bernstein of the recently closed Cena by Michy. I had never seen it before, but she explained that it’s commonly used in Asian cuisine. Black rice has a texture comparable to brown rice, but with a more pronounced nutty flavor. The dark color comes from the un-milled rice grain, which leaves a dark husk.
It’s delicious and incredibly good for you, one of the healthiest grains you can eat. It is packed with antioxidants and is rich in iron and fiber.
Black rice was highly treasured and protected in Asia for many centuries, and until recently, it was not easy to find. According to ancient Chinese legend, black rice was so rare that only emperors were allowed to eat it. For this reason, it can also be called “forbidden rice” or “emperor’s rice.” It is now available at stores such as Costco and Whole Foods and appears to be gaining popularity in kitchens and restaurants in the U.S. It’s visually striking on a white plate and delicious on the palate.
Black rice cooks in a half-hour, a quarter to half the time it takes for brown rice to be done. It has a chewier texture than other rice, and its starchy flavor works well as a healthy side dish and in salads, stuffing and even in desserts.
It’s a wonderful way to dress up even the simplest of dishes. At the cooking class, Chef Bernstein stir-fried tender cooked black rice with baby bok choy and Asian seasonings with delicious results. Once you taste it, I am sure you will agree that it makes sense to think outside of the box (or bag) and not limit yourself to only one type of rice.
Forbidden Rice with Beluga Lentils and Mushrooms
Adapted from “The Heart of the Plate” by Mollie Katzen, HoughtonMifflinHarcourt Publishing Co. ($34.99)
The earthy flavors in this dish are heightened by the natural acidity in Casa Valduga 130 sparkling wine from Brazil ($22). I think you will find this opposite flavor profile very enticing.
1 cup black (Forbidden) rice
1 cup beluga (small black) lentils
Scant 3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon grapeseed, canola, or peanut oil
1/2 cup finely minced shallots or red onion
1/2 pound domestic or cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed if necessary, and finely minced (can use a food processor)
1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges or extra fresh lemon juice for sprinkling on top (optional)
White truffle oil (optional)
Combine the rice, lentils, water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook undisturbed (with a heat diffuser, if you have one, underneath) for 40 minutes. If the rice is not tender enough at this point, splash in up to 1/4 cup additional water and cook it a little further. (The lentils will remain somewhat al dente.) When it’s done to your liking, turn off the heat and fluff with a fork to let the steam escape.
2. Meanwhile, place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the shallots or onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Splash in the lemon juice and continue to cook for just 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms are nicely dried out and beginning to brown and stick slightly to the pan. Mix from the bottom of the pan, scraping up and including whatever might have stuck (always the most flavorful part) and turn off the heat.
3. Transfer the cooked rice and lentils to the mushroom mixture, stirring and fluffing with a fork as you go. Adjust the salt, if necessary, and add black pepper to taste.
4. Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges tucked in or lemon juice sprinkled on top, if desired. You also might want to pass around some white truffle oil to drip delicately on top.
Yield: 5 or 6 servings