Archive for March, 2010

Rice: 5 Ways to Make Horchata- Mexico’s Rice Drink

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Horchata Rice Drink - Hot Cold -  ForkFingersChopsticks

In Mexico and some parts of the U.S., horchata is ubiquitous. The cinnamon-infused rice drink is served cold in huge jars alongside agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea) and other fruit based aguas frescas. This week, we’re also drinking it hot . . .

Despite the unpredictability of spring weather here in Colorado, it’s my favorite of all seasons.

New growth budding on leafless branches. Greener grasses and spring bulbs readying to bloom. Wet snowfalls. Cool weather herbs and greens peeking through in the garden. My first few outings on my bicycle and overestimating how far I could ride. Sore muscles. More snow.

A few days ago we took advantage of 60 degree weather here in Colorado, and cleaned several beds and remnants of seasons since passed. My momma was the willing assistant – helping me carry several tarps full of leaves and turn the compost bin.

That sort of work made us thirsty. Luck (and some pre-planning) was ours, I had three kinds of cold horchata ready to drink. Snap!

As refreshing as it was, we had to fight the urge to drink it all. I still had pictures to take the next day of the “hot” shot – a steamed horchata with a shot of espresso.

A cold blast came through Denver the very next day. Rain quickly turned to snow. And, of course we were out and about in the worst of it. A bit chilled when we got home, we pulled out the horchata again – this time served hot with espresso for momma; steamed and plain for me ( I’m a caffeine wuss).

The hot version, is inspired by Taza de Café, a northwest Denver coffee shop, which serves up horcha-tté, a luscious horchata drink with espresso.

So, horchata is a drink for any season!

Below are 5 ways to make this quintessential Mexican rice drink. Check them out and this song called Horchata by Vampire Weekend, which was released last fall.

Salud!

Tidbits on Horchata:

  1. In Mexico, horchata is typically made from rice and water, although some make creamier versions using milk and/or almonds. There is also an horchata made from ground melon seeds.
  2. Horchata, also called orxata, and this method of making refreshing drinks comes originally from Spain, where they use ground seeds, nuts and grains. There, instead of rice, they use tigernuts, also called chufas.

Source:  The Mexican Gourmet by Maria Dolores Torres Yzabal & Shelton Wiseman

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Rice: Mexican Brown Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana con Arroz Integral

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Mexican Brown Rice - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Since my recent post of Mexican rice, arroz a la Mexicana, using long grain white rice (read about the traditional version and its history), several of you have sent me requests for a brown rice version.

I like many of you enjoy brown rice – both for its taste and nutritional benefits. So, I’ve just upped my game by making a Mexican brown rice version.

First though, I have to admit, I’ve attempted this in the past. But, I was less than satisfied with the results – generally involving tripling the simmer time, and the final product lacking texture and flavor. I looked for outside guidance but it fell short – generally, because brown rice is not too common to Mexican cookery.

Yesterday, however, because of your insistence, I finally created a recipe I am very pleased with and glad to share.

I’ve pulled out a few tricks:  the rice is pre-soaked to soften the grain; saute the rice for about 10 minutes versus 5 for the white version; and, the rice is boiled for 5 minutes before simmering for 40 minutes (longer boil time and simmer time).

One more thing. I am very familiar with the process of Mexican rice in this pilaf style, so I generally know how to make adjustments such as removing/adding a little liquid; changing the pot to make a larger quantity and using less water for the same. However, if you’re new to it and depending on where you are – sea level or the top of the Rocky Mountains, you may have to adjust slightly.

Let the first attempt be just that. Print this recipe, follow it as is and gauge how it comes out for you. Make notes on how you should adjust next go around.

Happy cooking!

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Rice: Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Mexican Rice-ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Mexican rice, also called arroz a la Mexicana or arroz rojo, is a requisite when it comes to Mexican food.

In the States, it is a standard side served along with beans. In Mexico, it is one of the most popular sopas secas (dry soups), in a multi-course meal, typically served before the main course.

In case you’re confused, Mexican rice is different than Spanish rice, although some people use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version gets its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice generally uses saffron.

Mexican rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook that required a little skill in the kitchen – sautéing, boiling and steaming. Sounds tricky, but it really just requires keeping a watchful eye on the pot during the sauté.

I’ve been making rice for eons and only recently realized that the technique I learned from my momma, and she from her abuela, was considered a pilaf. In pilafs, the rice/grain is browned in fat before it is simmered in a flavored broth. This cooking process creates fluffy, flavorful rice that’s moist. It also gives it a faint smoky taste from browning.

As you’ll see from the ingredient list and the photos, I add vegetables to my rice. It’s the way my family does it and it’s also the way many in Mexico make it – cocineros add carrots, peas, zucchini and/or fresh whole chiles for flavor. However, if you add peas, promise not to use the canned stuff! Ewww.

Most of the time, I eat this rice with black beans, lots of fresh pico de gallo, and slices of avocado atop. (The pre-cursor to Chipotle’s® bowl.) Others usually eat it as a side dish. Try it with rajas and grilled chicken, caldo de res, mole poblano, and Mexican zucchini – calabacitas con elote.

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice was introduced to Mexico via the Spanish during colonization via the Spanish trade route from Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico. In Mexico, the route is referred to as the Nao de China.
  2. The length of rice grains should be considered for your desired end result. Long grain rice is fluffy and has separate individual grains after cooking, while medium grain rice clings together a bit more but remains a bit more tender and moist. Short grain rice tends to stick together and is best for things like rice puddings.

Sources:  Encyclopedia of Food & Culture; The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

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Rice: Five Spice Brown Fried Rice

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Brown Fried Rice - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

It’s ironic but my favorite five spice mix has six ingredients:  Chinese cinnamon, Chinese #1 ginger, star anise, ground fennel, cloves and black pepper.

A quick search online indicates that it’s not all that uncommon and there are mixes aptly named “seven spice.” Supposedly, it’s not so much the number of spices used that’s of import but encompassing all five flavors – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty.

Regardless, the spice mix is what turns this vegetable-laden brown rice dish into a Chinese-inspired main course that’s quick and easy. In China, stir-frys were eaten out of practicality – meat was scarce but rice and vegetables were more plentiful. Stir-frying also conserved fuel by cooking food quickly.

Even though I write this food blog – and put more time into cooking than some – I take advantage of some practical approaches to cooking. For instance, I make one big batch of rice for the week. We’re not huge pasta or bread eaters in our house, so our starchy carb is rice. It’s usually eaten with a lot of soups and beans.

Over the last few months though, I’ve been making fried rice out of leftover brown rice. It’s a go to recipe when I want something substantial without a whole lot of effort. Each time I’ve made it’s been a little of this and that – how I generally cook. I provided measurements just as a guide but hope you make it your own. So, use whatever vegetables you have in the crisper, change out/omit the meat source and even use white rice.

And, one more thing – this is a healthy meal and a good way to eat more vegetables and fiber – despite the word “fried.”

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice feeds more than half of the world’s population.
  2. Asia, Latin America and Africa comprise the world’s major rice growing regions. Notably, most rice is consumed within 10 miles of where it is produced.

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Rice: Perfect Brown Rice at High Altitude

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Perfect Brown Rice with Grain - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

It’s back to basics with brown rice.

Nutritionally brown rice is better for you than its white counterpart -  it’s higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals. And, I think it tastes better – it’s chewier and nuttier. The tradeoff, however, is that it has a much longer cooking time and is more perishable.

Generally, I’m a patient person. But, making a good pot of brown rice used to give me a fit. Despite the fact that I love cooking gadgets, I refuse to buy a rice cooker, so I do it old school – in a pot. That meant cooking brown rice for an hour plus at high altitude with a lot of guesswork and not so good results.

That was, until I learned the trick.

After one of my not-so-successful attempts, I came across a recipe for Perfect Brown Rice on Pinch My Salt, which adopted an unusual cooking technique from Saveur magazine. Basically, the trick is this:  boil the rice in a lot of water, drain it off and return it to the pot to steam. So simple, but it works.

I adapted the technique slightly for high altitude – using 6 cups of water per 1 cup rice and also boiling the rice longer. (Saveur used 12 cups water/30 minute boil, Pinch My Salt 4 cups/30 minute boil.) At high altitude it has to cook a bit longer and the water/rice ratio needs increasing. However, the 6 to 1 ratio can be used wherever you might be located.

So far I’ve used this method to cook short grain brown rice, long grain brown rice and brown basmati and they’ve all come out perfect. (The photos are of short grain brown rice.) Give it a go!

Tidbits about Brown Rice:

  1. Rice Layers: A rice grain is comprised of several layers. In brown rice, only the outer husk is removed. However, in white rice the grains are milled to further remove the bran and germ.
  2. Class:  Today brown rice costs more than white rice but in certain parts of the world, particularly in parts of Asia, brown rice was less preferable and associated with poverty.
  3. Nutrition: Brown rice is one of the top nutritious foods on the market because it provides high levels of fiber, complex carbohydrates, certain B vitamins, vitamin E, lysine, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. It’s also touted as good for weight-loss because it has no cholesterol, a miniscule amount of fat, and only an estimated 160 calories per cooked cup.
  4. Storage: Brown rice becomes rancid more quickly than white rice, therefore it should be refrigerated. Sources vary on how quickly it should be used, typically between one and six months.

Sources:  Britannica.com; AsiaRice.org; Rice as a Food, Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.

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Lentils: Lentil & Plantain Salad – Ensalada de Lentejas Y Platanos

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Ensalada Lentejas con Platanos - Lentil Plantain_ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Apparently, lentils and bananas are combined more commonly than we think.

I came upon a Banana-Lentil Salad recipe while browsing Nuevo Latino: Recipes that Celebrate the New Latin-American Cuisine by Douglas Rodriguez, a James Beard award-winning chef. His salad trails back to the Spanish Canary Islands.

In Mexico, as well as in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, lentejas y platanos (lentils and plantains) are frequently eaten as a soup usually stewed with pork. And, in places like Puebla, Mexico, pineapple is also added to the mix, according to The Art of Mexican Cooking by renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy, who links the savory/sweet combo to Moorish Spain. The combination can also be traced to some African recipes.

This salad recipe, however, is my version of lentejas and platanos. It’s loosely inspired by Rodriguez and traditional lentejas recipes.

If you’re leary about the lentil/plantain combo – have the salad without the plantains, it’s still plenty flavorful and healthy. However, you’re on notice that it’s those platanos fritos (fried plantains) that makes this salad special.

The caramelized plantains have sweet, tender insides that are also a tad bit tangy and a perfect contrast to the crunchiness of peppers, onion and celery, and the nuttiness of wild rice and lentils.

It’s an unusual twist that’s not so unusual.

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Before cooking lentils, be sure to sort the legumes to remove any debris such as dirt and stones. Then rinse well in a colander and drain. It is not necessary to pre-soak lentils before cooking.
  2. Store unused lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry location for up to one year.
  3. Lentils are high in soluble fiber and recommended for people with diabetes and cholestoral problems.

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