Rice: such a simple ingredient and yet so versatile in how it can be used in cooking to create part of a wonderfully rounded meal to please the whole table. Used around the world in an array of dishes from paella in Spain to the popular biryani in India, and not forgetting Italy’s famed risotto dish, the use of such a small staple ingredient in quite the wide range of dishes shows just how adaptable this one element can be.
Believed to have originated in Southern China around 6,000 BC, the growing of rice spread south into Vietnam, Thailand and India with China still the largest producer of rice today producing 146.73 million metric tons of the cereal grain, closely followed by India who produce 118.87 million metric tons a year. A staple food for 3.5 billion people around the world, it’s no wonder that this little ingredient has had to become so versatile in order to please the palates of many with so many countries putting their stamp on their own rice dishes.
Here, we take a look at how different countries and cultures have adopted the grain to make it their own with a selection of signatures dishes from around the world using rice as the star ingredient.
Biryani – India
The name biryani originates from the Persian word birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and this popular dish, which derived from the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, is a favourite for its flavours, textures and simplicity. Consisting of rice, Indian spices and meat, the variety of dishes to choose from are aplenty with mutton, chicken, beef and prawn being the more popular versions devoured. It is traditionally made by layering raw meat marinated with yogurt and spices with partially cooked fragrant rice (hence the name) in a bell-shaped dish over a slow heat. The dish is sealed with a roti dough, which dries and releases steam when the food inside is cooked.
If you wish to recreate a biryani at home, you can do so with a few shortcuts to the traditional way by using a saucepan with lid over a high heat and cooking your spices with an onion before adding your chosen meat, curry paste, rice and stock. Biryani is typically made with basmati rice but try it with the enriched Extra Long Grain White Rice by Carolina Rice if you fancy preparing this delicious dish at home – you’ll love the results.
Paella – Spain
From Valencia in Spain to the rest of the world comes the ever-popular paella dish. Every good paella contains rice, saffron, chicken and vegetables, but many use the opportunity to diversify the dish by adding king prawns, smoked paprika, mussels and more. While many consider this to be the national dish of Spain, it is in fact the signature dish of the south-eastern area of Valencia after rice was introduced to the natural port by the Moors over 1,200 years ago.
Starting life as a farm labourer’s lunch utilising rice and whatever ingredients around the field were available, such as tomatoes, onions and snails, paella was eaten straight from the pan, hence why it is served as is it today. The dish uses short grain rice and traditionally uses chicken, rabbit, snails and white and green beans, but can be adapted by adding whatever vegetables or meats are to your taste.
Risotto – Italy
This northern Italian favourite is cooked gently with select few ingredients to result in a rich and creamy dish. Risotto uses arborio rice – an Italian short-grain rice, which is characterised by its shorter and rounder appearance and slightly chewier consistency. It also contains a higher starch content, which makes it perfect for that perfect creamy risotto that every cook seeks.
A basic risotto is made using onion, white wine, parmesan cheese, chicken, fish or vegetable stock, butter and olive oil, but many variations have evolved to suit different palates. Add mushrooms, garlic, peas and broad beans; try tomato and courgette or elevate with lobster – the options are endless with this delicious dish, just make sure you give it the time and attention it requires for a perfect outcome every time.
Jambalaya – Louisiana
This rice dish hails from south Louisiana in the U.S. and draws influence from West Africa, France and Spain. Both a Cajun and a Creole dish, jambalaya is similar to paella with regards to its main ingredients but differs with its spice levels and seasonings. With saffron being the main spice ingredient in the Valencian favourite, consumers of jambalaya will certainly taste a warmer heat that comes from the mix of cayenne, black pepper, white pepper, yellow mustard, bay leaves, garlic and more that is typical of a Cajun seasoning, while Creole seasoning focuses on herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, paprika, and basil.
Chicken, pork, andouille sausage, chorizo, a smoked sausage, crawfish or shrimp are more commonly used alongside onion, peppers, celery, stock, chili and, of course, rice in one pot. It is also interesting to note that Creole versions include tomatoes in their recipes, while Cajun versions don’t.
Nasi Goreng – Indonesia
This fried rice dish hailing from Indonesia is a favourite among many for its variety of ingredients and tantalising flavours. Enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or dinner, the origins of nasi goreng are thought to derive from Chinese migrants who took the recipe to the Indonesian islands, which was adapted over the centuries to local taste.
Meaning ‘fried rice’ or ‘cooked rice that is fried,’ the dish consists of pre-cooked rice that is then stir-fried with oil, shallots, garlic, chili, shrimp paste, and chicken or prawn pieces flavoured with tamarind and sweet soy and topped with egg. What makes nasi goreng stand out from other fried rice dishes is the sauce, which is crafted using a sweet soy sauce – kecap manis – that turns the rice dark brown while also caramelising it as it cooks, and provides a smoky, deep flavour. The great thing about this dish is that it is quick to prepare and very versatile, so anyone wishing to whip this up can do so swiftly while producing an utterly delicious meal as a result.