Rice Stuffing

Every year, I await the arrival of the Food & Wine November issue with great anticipation – at our house, Thanksgiving never has the same menu two years in a row; instead, I usually try out one of F&W’s menus. This year features an Asian-American inspired theme, and as much as I’d like to try it, I think it may be a bit too experimental for the kids. It did make me reconsider the dressing issue, though: I’m really the only person in the family who loves dressing, so maybe I should consider using rice rather than bread as the base? F&W’s chef, Joanne Chang uses Chinese sausage for her dressing, but I really dislike that product – it’s usually highly processed, full of questionable ingredients and often a lot of MSG – so I set out to create a similar recipe using more whole, close to the source, and local ingredients.

You can certainly vary the ingredients based on what’s fresh and local where you live or to include some luxury items, such as papaya or pineapple.

Glutinous rice is an extremely short-grain rice that cooks up sticky and is often used in sweet dishes – it is often called “sticky rice” or “sweet rice” for these reasons – and is available in white or brown.

I’ve simplified the steps and made the final cooking take place in a steamer, freeing up the oven in case you are making this for Thanksgiving and need the space.

I’ve reduced the recipe amounts to make approximately 4 servings – it’s easily multiplied if you want to use it for a larger gathering.

ingredients:

  • 1/4 c dried sweet cherries or raisins
  • 1 c glutinous rice – I like a mix of white and brown
  • 1 T cooking oil or bacon fat
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1/4 lb fresh shiitake mushroom caps, cut into 1/4″ dice – you can save the stems for making stock
  • 2 oz ham, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 tart apple, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1/4 c Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 T chopped cilantro

method:

  1. Soak the cherries in water overnight to plump them up, then drain and set aside.
  2. Combine the wine, soy sauce, and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves, then set aside.
  3. Cook the rice according to the Basic Steamed Rice recipe, then allow it to come to room temperature.
  4. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, then add the cooking oil and heat just until it shimmers.
  5. Explode the shallot and scallions just until fragrant, then add the diced mushrooms, stirfrying for approximately 1 m.
  6. Add the ham, apples, and cherries and stir just until heated through.
  7. Combine all the ingredients gently – the easiest way to do this is by wetting your hands with cold water and using them to gently mix the ingredients together.
  8. Grease a glass or ceramic dish, then put the rice mixture inside it.
  9. Steam the rice until heated through, approximately 30-45 m (longer if you’ve multiplied the recipe).

Brown rice, anyone?

Over the past few years I have converted almost completely to whole grains in my own diet – convincing the rest of the family to do so has been only somewhat successful – they love their white rice, pasta, and bread! On some issues I’ve simply laid down the law – you will eat your sandwiches on whole wheat bread and your rice pilaf brown! – and stopped buying white. On others we eat separately: I will cook whole wheat pasta for myself when I cook white for them (I’m most sympathetic on this one, since it took me a long time to like whole wheat pasta). Our most recent compromise has been to alternate the kind of rice we cook to serve with Chinese food: one time we do a mix that includes brown rice, the next time we mix just white and sticky rice. It’s a gradual process of conversion which may never be complete!

It is indeed rare, although not unheard of, for Chinese restaurants to offer brown rice – I’m happy to see that it seems to be a growing phenomenon. And there’s more and more evidence that whole grains are better for you: apparently there are as many, if not more, phytochemicals in whole grains as in fruits and veggies – they just happen to appear in a bound form. A brief article on this appears on SparkPeople. More on the scientist researching this: Ruihai Liu Research Laboratory.

Wherever you are on your journey to eat more healthfully, this is food for thought.

Coconut Sticky Rice Pudding

Disclaimer – this is in no way a Chinese recipe, but I put it together this weekend, inspired by a Food & Wine recipe from Pok Pok in Thailand, and it was so good I had to share! And it works wonderfully at the end of a Chinese meal. And it’s very simple. And it used up yet another can from the pantry I’m trying to clean out before we move, although after last night’s earthquake, I’m not sure cleaning out the dry goods is a great idea just yet…. Glutinous rice is short grain rice that is the basis for a lot of Japanese dishes such as mochi – it cooks up very sticky and lends itself well to sweet concoctions. You could try using a medium-grain rice, such as Jasmine, but your pudding will not be as sticky. The pudding is delicious with a tropical fruit, such as mango, but it’s also good on its own.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz glutinous rice – I used white, but brown or mixed would work equally well.
  • 1 12-oz can coconut milk (reduced fat is fine, but remember – coconut contains “beneficial fats” so why not splurge just once?)
  • 1/4-1/2 c sugar – use white if your rice is white, brown or raw cane if you’re using brown rice.
  • 1/2-1 tsp sea salt

method:

  1. Soak and cook the rice according to the Basic Steamed Rice post.
  2. While the rice steams, combine the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a pot, then bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally for approximately 5-10 minutes until it is slightly reduced.
  3. Mix the coconut milk with the warm rice, adjust the seasoning, transfer to a bowl, then serve or allow it to come to room temperature or chill it before serving.

do ahead:

The pudding can be made up to a day ahead of time. If you would prefer to serve it warm or hot, place it in a steamer until heated to the desired temperature, usually 15-20 m. It can also be microwaved on low power, but the steamer seems to make for a better texture.

The Original Chicken Rice Bowl

In Southern California, with its large Asian population, the “rice bowl” is a common item in many restaurants, from the ethnic mom & pop shop (many of which make a great one!) to fast food joints (both those that qualify as Asian, like Yoshinoya, and downright American ones, like Jack-in-the-Box, all of which are pretty ghastly). The basic concept is a one-dish meal – some sort of topping served over rice. The homemade version is not only a one-dish meal, it’s also a one-pot meal, a style of cooking that is quick and economical and saves on the pile of pots to be washed! Here, then is a recipe for Chicken Rice Bowl – homemade and healthy! Review the Basic Steamed Rice post for directions on how to use different varieties of rice, how to wash and soak it, and how to cook it.

ingredients:

  • 2 c rice, washed and soaked
  • 3 c water if you’re using a pot, water up to the 2 c mark plus 1/2 cup more if you’re using a rice cooker
  • 4 oz cooked chicken, shredded – do your taste buds, your health, the earth, and the chicken a favor and buy sustainably raised if you can!
  • 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, caps cut into thin strips, stems reserved for making soup
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

marinade:

method:

  1. Put the rice and water into the cooking pot or rice cooker, then cook according to the Basic Steamed Rice post only until the water reaches the level of the top of the rice.
  2. While the rice cooks to this point, combine the marinade ingredients, then add the chicken and mushrooms and let the mixture rest.
  3. Place the topping mixture over the partly cooked rice, sprinkle with 1/2 of the scallion, but do not stir. Cook until rice is done.
  4. Let the rice stand, covered, for 10-15 m, and only then mix gently, adjust the seasoning, top with the remaining scallion and sesame oil, and serve.

Basic Stirfried Noodles – Lo Mein

Noodle dishes make frequent appearances at banquets and birthday parties in China – the long noodles symbolize long life, so they are never broken or cut before serving.

While the kids and my husband tend to prefer soupy noodles (see Pan-Asian Noodle Soup post, for example), I have a weakness for stirfried noodles, called lo mein in Cantonese or lao mian in Mandarin. This recipe, a sort of cross between a stirfry and a braise, can be made with just about any type of noodle (even spaghetti, linguine, etc.) and forms the base for an infinite variety of combinations – what in the fridge looks like it’s on the way out, in other words!

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb noodles
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 T ginger, cut into thin slivers or minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2″ sections on the diagonal

sauce:

  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1/4 c stock or broth
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
  • salt to taste

method:

  1. While you bring a pot of water to a boil, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  2. Cook the noodles just past the al dente stage – there should be no white center when you bite into one.
  3. Immediately drain the noodles and rinse with cold water until cool and no longer sticky. Drain for 15 -30 m, then gently loosen with wet hands or chopsticks.
  4. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add oil just until it shimmers.
  5. Explode the ginger, garlic, and scallions just until fragrant, then add the sauce and bring it to a boil.
  6. Add the noodles, stir to combine thoroughly, adjust seasoning, and serve immediately.

variations:

  • If you already have leftover stirfry, reheat it quickly in the fragrant oil before adding the sauce in step 5.
  • Quickly blanched or stirfried vegetables make a great addition – add them when you add the noodles in the final step, or you can stirfry them quickly before you add the sauce in step 5.
  • You can also add stirfried beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or tofu – see Mooshu Vegetables post for the appropriate marinade, then stirfry the protein quickly before adding the sauce in step 5.
  • I tend to avoid heavily processed foods, such as prepared sauces, so I leave the oyster sauce out of the sauce mixture – for a more genuine Cantonese taste, you can add 1 T of it.

Chinese Red Beans & Rice

Perfect protein for vegetarians, especially if you use brown rice! Most cultures have a version of beans and rice – I’m not sure this recipe is really Chinese, but it works and it’s popular with kids. Try to find the tiny red adzuki beans, or substitute mung beans or another small colorful variety – black beans will also work well. This is also a good recipe for leftover rice and beans, if you tend to cook beans and have them on hand, in which case it’s super quick. Add a green vegetable and you have a meal in approximately 30 m.

ingredients:

  • 2 c cooked beans (see note)
  • 1 c rice
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly ground white (or black) pepper to taste
  • 1 T light soy sauce

method:

  1. Wash, soak, and begin to cook the rice according to the Basic Steamed Rice recipe.
  2. When the water level reaches the top of the rice, heat a wok over medium high heat, then add the oil until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the scallion and ginger just until fragrant, then add the cooked beans and stirfry until coated with oil.
  4. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce, and cook 1-2 m, until beans are heated through.
  5. Gently mix the beans into the rice, then allow the rice to finish cooking.

note:

I have only recently mastered the art of cooking beans – up until a few months ago, I always preferred the texture and flavor of  canned ones. I recently discovered – with apologies to Kungfu Panda – that there really is a secret ingredient: patience! Now I usually cook the beans while making some other meal or when I know I’ll be home for a while, and that way I have a container of cooked beans handy for all sorts of last minute meals.

  1. Sort 1 c. dried beans (they sometimes have little rocks in with them!), then rinse them well and add 4 c of cool water. Allow the beans to soak at room temperature for 24-36 h, changing the water every 12 h.
  2. Drain the beans, place in a pot, add 4 c cold water, then bring to a boil.
  3. Immediately reduce to a simmer – a rapid boil will split the skins, cover loosely, and cook until soft and creamy all the way through. Undercooked beans will be grainy and have a whiter center. Do not add salt as it can toughen the skins and make cooking time even longer. Cooking time will vary greatly, from 1 – 2 h, sometimes more, depending on how long you soaked the beans, how old/dry they are, the hardness of your water, the phase of the moon….
  4. When your beans are done, remove them from the heat and allow them to come to room temperature in their cooking liquid. you can speed this process up by putting the pot into a larger pot or sink with ice water in it.
  5. Store in the refrigerator in their liquid, draining and rinsing only the amount you need for a recipe.

Eight Jewels Rice

Dessert is rather an anomaly in a traditional Chinese meal – sometimes there is a sweet soup made of beans and/or barley, but most often fresh fruit is served. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fancy western-style cakes and pastries in China, but true Chinese desserts are few and far between. Some restaurants in America offer a selection of desserts, many of which were invented to please the American taste for something sweet to end a meal. But “Eight Jewels Rice” (babaofan in Mandarin) is truly Chinese – a sort of sweet and sticky rice pudding made with (presumably) eight types of dried or preserved fruits and nuts. You can buy canned red bean paste at Asian groceries, but it’s just as easy (and probably healthier) to make your own. Glutinous rice is a very short-grained rice which is now more frequently available in brown and mixed versions as well as the more common white. The garnish ingredients are sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern in the bowl, but you can also mix them into the cooked rice.

ingredients:

  • 1.5 c glutinous rice
  • 1.5 c water
  • 1 T oil for greasing the bowl

filling:

  • 1 c cooked dark red kidney beans, cooking liquid reserved
  • 1 T honey, more to taste
  • 1 T oil (optional)

garnish:

  • 1 c total dried fruits (larger ones may be cut into strips or chopped coarsely: raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries, mangoes, …)and nuts (unbroken halves make the best presentation: peanuts, cashews, almonds, …)

sauce:

  • 1/2 c sugar (white is best)
  • 1/2 c water

method:

  1. Rinse and drain the rice, then cook according to Basic Steamed Rice recipe. Keep warm.
  2. Use a food processor to puree the beans with the honey and oil, adding the cooking liquid 1 T at a time until it reaches a thick paste consistency.
  3. Grease a heatproof bowl (approximately 6-8″ across).
  4. Mix the garnish ingredients into the rice or arrange them in a design over the bottom of the bowl (and up the sides if you’d like).
  5. Gently press 3/4 of the rice mixture into the bowl, taking care not to disturb the pattern if you went that route. It should be about 1/2″ thick all around.
  6. Add the red bean mixture to the middle, then use the rest of the rice to seal in the filling.
  7. Wet your hands with cold water and smooth the surface, pressing down very gently to remove any air pockets.
  8. Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 45 m.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer just until all the sugar is dissolved approximately 1 m.
  10. Remove the bowl from the steamer and run a knife around the edges of the “pudding,” being careful not to disturb the design if you made one.
  11. Invert onto a plate, pour the sauce over, and serve with a spoon or you can try cutting into wedges and serving as you would a cake.

do ahead:

The “pudding” can be assembled and steamed up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered in the bowl, once it cools to room temperature. Or you can freeze it, tightly covered, in the bowl for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 24-48 h before using. Reheat it by steaming for 30 m.