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If ever a grain could be called sexy, black rice would be it.
Because its sleek, ebony bran layer and germ are intact (thereby qualifying it a whole grain), black rice takes a bit longer to cook than white. However, those few extra minutes provide ample rewards, including complex flavor and pleasing chewiness--plus a bonus of health-promoting fiber. The bran layer acts as a barrier to flavor until it softens, so I have found it best to add salt and seasonings towards the end of cooking. Alternatively, try cooking the rice first as I've done in the recipe for Black Rice with Mussels and Shrimp, and use the grains as the bed for a brothy, ocean-scented fish stew.
There are numerous varieties of black rice. Among them is the Chinese black rice I've used in the mussel dish. This type, usually sold under its trademarked name "Forbidden Black Rice," is a medium-grain rice that brings elegant sophistication to any meal. Another variety is Thai black sticky rice. Though traditionally used for making steamed desserts, I was delighted to find that it makes an unusually fetching rice pudding. The rice bleeds a very deep color as it cooks, creating a dessert that suggests molten chocolate. Because of the bran, this pudding is more toothsome than the melt-in-your-mouth rice puddings of tradition, but equally well received.
Black Rice with Mussels and Shrimp in Tomato Broth
3/4 cup Chinese black rice (also called "Forbidden Black Rice"), rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped leeks or onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup white wine
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Pinch crushed red pepper
2 pounds mussels, beards removed
1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Combine the rice and 1 1/2 cups water in a heavy, 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the surface. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and continue cooking for another minute. Add the wine and cook over high heat until about half has been absorbed. Stir in the tomatoes, salt and red pepper. Set aside.
When the rice is tender, turn off the heat and let it sit while you prepare the mussels and shrimp. Bring the tomato mixture to a boil. Add the mussels, cover, and steam over high heat, shaking the pot occasionally, until the mussels open, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly. Push the mussels aside and submerge the shrimp in the liquid. Cook until the shrimp are uniformly cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
To serve: Lift the rice with a slotted spoon (it's OK is there is some unabsorbed liquid) and divide it among four large, shallow, individual soup bowls. Ladle the mussels, shrimp, and broth on top. (Discard any unopened mussels.) Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
Coconut-Ginger Thai Black Rice Pudding
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup Thai black rice, rinsed
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons rum
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Grated orange zest, for garnish
In a heavy, 2-quart saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice and salt and return to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the rice is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. It's OK if there is some unabsorbed water.
Stir in the coconut milk, ginger, rum, and sugar to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the mixture thickens, 10 to 15 minutes for a soupy pudding, and 15 to 18 minutes for a thicker pudding.
Cool slightly before spooning into individual dessert bowls or martini or wine glasses. Serve warm, garnished with orange zest.
Copyright, Lorna Sass, 2007
Lorna Sass is the author of WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY, which won a 2007 James Beard Foundation Award in the "healthy focus" category. Her website is www.lornasass.com. Sass is also the author of Pressure Perfect: Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker.