I have always loved rice. When I was a kid, my mom made good old Uncle Ben’s. For many years I had no idea that any other rice existed, except for the comparatively sticky and starchy rice that Chinese restaurants served, which was fascinating in its own right for its seemingly exotic texture. Then, around the age of twelve, I tasted wild rice for the first time. The experience was a revelation. This, I was sure, was the gateway to things fantastic. To this day, wild rice remains my favorite, no doubt partially due to the wonder of that initial discovery.
Since that time, I have made every kind of rice that I managed to put my greedy little hands on. Reds and browns and blacks, and so many types of white, in a variety of shapes and sizes, from long, thin grains to little round nuggets of pearly goodness. Rice, with its glorious potentiality, refuses to be categorized. It can be prepared for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, in every concoction conceivable. It can stand alone as the center of a meal, or gracefully complement so many other foods and flavors. Rice is beyond versatile.
Wild rice, my favorite, and Uncle Ben’s, the nostalgic choice, were joined long ago by another favorite, jasmine rice. (I suppose a person could argue that only one favorite is allowed, but in the realm of tasty food, I choose to ignore pesky semantics.) Jasmine rice is like no other variety. Its scent, alone, seems almost magical. I love opening a bag of it and inhaling the fragrance. It has become my go-to rice that accompanies so many types of foods, and is wonderful as the base for a quick stir-fried meal. Be sure to use only authentic jasmine rice, labeled Thai Hom Mali. It can be found in any Asian grocery store. Not only is it the real deal, but it costs well less than a dollar per pound.
Though I have loved rice for years, I never knew how (though I didn’t realize so at the time) to cook rice in the correct fashion. I had been taught to boil it until done. But, thanks to Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford’s wonderful book Seductions of Rice, I finally learned the correct way to produce a perfect pot of rice, each and every time. They (thankfully!) provide foolproof cooking procedures for most every variety of rice, while also offering the most exquisite recipes from many parts of Asia, and a fascinating travelogue accompanied by wonderful photos. Much hyperbole on my part, it may seem, but their masterpiece well deserves the descriptions. Of all my cookbooks, this one is my favorite. (Don’t get me started on the topic of semantics again.)
While at the market the other day, I found a jar of the most beautiful, fresh kimchi. While fresh is not often an adjective used to describe kimchi, the condiment usually being the long-fermented variety, this jar was indeed fresh, with bright greens and spicy reds shimmering through the glass. I purchased it, of course, how could I not, and took it home. After cooking a pot of jasmine rice and topping it with the kimchi, Paulo and I had an excellent meal indeed. Purists might shudder at the idea of eating Korean kimchi with Thai rice, but I must confess that my conscience doesn’t bother me in the least.
Perfect Jasmine Rice, with Kimchi
2 cups jasmine rice
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
Rinse the rice in several batches of cold water, agitating vigorously by hand, until the water no longer clouds. Drain the rice and put it into a pot, along with the water and the salt. Cover and bring to a boil. As soon as the boil occurs, turn the stove burner to its lowest possible setting, and cook for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for 5 minutes, again without lifting the lid. Then remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and eat topped with kimchi (or serve with anything else that you like).