Since the creation of this here blog Hart & I have been eating a lot more often at home. This, in and of itself, is a really good thing especially heading into the best months ever for local produce and such, but this also means that I am cooking full blown meals multiple times a week and then noshing leftovers for lunch and non-cooking nights. This has translated into a lot of rich and filling food. Not a bad thing…mostly. It can also get kind of repetitive and I kind of hate leftovers, most specifically the kind that I can’t easily and deliciously turn into something else that I want to eat. Kind of like reading for a book report, I hate feeling like I have to eat something.
Well I have no intention of cooking less…if anything I will be cooking more as inspiration sprouts from the ground, but what I can do is cook differently, with different ingredients. Welcome to my first foray into brown rice in a long time. I really don’t remember what I did when I made it before or where I had it that it was awful but I have pretty much just stayed away from it; I’m not partial to cooking things I don’t particularly want to eat and my only opinion on brown rice was no effing way that stuff is gross. But I found an interesting brown & wild rice blend that looked like it should taste good at Penn Mac and decided it had to be possible to make brown rice taste like something that I would want to eat.
Compared to white rice brown rice is healthier, even than the enriched white rice sold in stores. Texturally it is different, the rice grain is processed less, leaving the outer layers, where most of the nutrition is, in tact but also making it a bit chewier than white rice. Brown rice requires a much longer cook time but that’s just more time to infuse flavor, so bonus! It also has natural toasty, nutty flavor that it really nice to work with and easy to play off of. The texture is what I hated when I had eaten it before and is what I kind of fell in love with when I made it this time. When warm it reminded me of a non-creamy risotto, cold it is firm like an al dente orzo. I will be playing around with brown rice more, I have a food crush.
My quest to make something that I wanted to eat out of brown rice ended up being 2 somethings, actually. The first recipe is for a warm brown rice pilaf with toasted almonds; I served it with an herb marinated grilled chicken and brown butter snap peas, it paired absolutely perfect. I cooked extra pilaf with the intent of having enough leftover to make a cold brown rice salad with crisp gala apple, toasted almonds and a simple balsamic vinaigrette; that I put together to go with cold sliced chicken over a baby green salad with goat cheese. I can’t decide which I liked better, both were high on flavor and texture and the toasted almonds perfect in both but probably the salad – I am a sucker for fresh apple & balsamic vinegar.
This can easily be made vegan – use olive oil in place of butter and vegetable stock in place of chicken, everything else is still exactly the same.
Brown Rice Pilaf with Toasted Almonds recipe makes rice for 4, make 1/2 recipe for just the salad
- 2 Tbsp Butter or Olive Oil
- 1/2 small White Onion, small dice
- 1 medium Carrot, small dice
- 1 rib Celery, small dice
- 1 cup Brown Rice or Wild & Brown Rice Blend
- 2 1/2 cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock
- 1 each Bay Leaf
- salt & pepper to taste
- 4 Tbsp Chopped Fresh Parsley & Thyme
Heat a pot over medium high heat and melt the butter/olive oil. Add the vegetables, season with salt & pepper and sweat over medium heat until the carrot is tender and the onion smells sweet. Add the rice and saute until the rice is coated and starting to pop in the pan.
Add the stock and bay leaf, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 45 minutes. Check on it every now & again and give it a stir but for the most part leave it alone to do its thing.
While the rice cooks toast up some whole almonds. I toss them in a pie pan in a 350 oven and let them go a good 12-15 minutes until they are nice and golden brown. When they are done let them cool. When cool crush them up – I put them in a baggy and smash with a wooden spoon.
The rice is done cooking when all of the liquid is gone from the pan, taste it now – it should be tender, cooked all the way through; season with salt & pepper, if it needs it. Add the herbs, stir them in, cover and let sit on the stove top for another 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and sprinkle with the toasted almonds right before you serve. The toasted nutty crunchiness takes this to the next level. Adding the fresh herbs at the end leaves their flavor fresh and bright, same with the bright green color, and the chewiness is perfect. Loved this. Loved.
Note: I very deliberately did not add the almonds to the rice. Outside of the nuttiness I wanted from them I also wanted the textural contrast. That would have been lost after 3 minutes in the hot rice.
Inspiration #2 was a cold salad. I knew that I was going to get a rice with more texture and umph than white rice and I wanted to play with a cold rice salad; BBQ season is fast approaching and I like to make things that differ from the mayonnaise bombs traditionally served. Don’t get me wrong – a good potato or macaroni salad is a thing of glory, unfortunately there are far more awful than good ones out there and they aren’t exactly epitome of healthy side dish options. This one is healthy, but also delicious.
Brown Rice & Apple Salad
- 3 cups (ish) Brown Rice Pilaf
- 1 each Gala Apple, skin on – small diced
- 1/4 cup (ish) Toasted Almonds or Walnuts (walnuts are better, had almonds toasted)
- 1/4 cup (ish) Balsamic Vinaigrette
This recipe is flexible, obviously. Put it all together and mix. Add more of whatever you like to make it suit your tastes.
Balsamic Vinaigrette could not be easier, I have a post on deck about vinaigrettes in general, but for this recipe all you need to do is simple. I have a few of those cruets that come with the Italian Dressing Packets that are perfect, or you can use any kind of container with a lid, put 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, pinch of kosher salt and a couple grinds of pepper, lid it and shake. Boom. Vinaigrette.
The herbs from the rice are still bright, the acidity of the balsamic pairs really well with the nuttiness of the brown rice & almonds and the sweet juicy apple brings it all together. I actually prefer the meatier toasted walnuts to the almonds, I think, but either bring a toasty crunch that I loved. I also think dried cherries or cranberries would be a welcome addition to this salad…I’ll have to try that next time!