Monday, March 18, 2013

Red Rice with Roasted Fennel + Apricots


Enabled by the long stretches of watchful waiting that sourdough baking requires (the Tartine Bread method - try it!), I recently undertook a big pantry cleanout. Every box, bag, packet, and jar came out of the cabinets and was accordingly inspected, consolidated, and repackaged; the works. When all was said and done, I had transferred all of the grains and legumes to glass jars, labelled them (use blue painters' tape - it comes off easily when it's time to change things up again) and upgraded them from their cabinet banishment to our open kitchen cart, where I can easily see their status when menu planning or before I head out to the market.

With limited cabinet space in our kitchen, some of the more interesting items can get pushed to the back where I never, ever think to use them, so a re-org session is always a source of cooking inspiration. Lo and behold, among other lucky finds, my toils unearthed not one, not two, but three colorful varieties of rice that had been puchased with big plans in mind and promptly shoved in the back of a cabinet, utterly forgotten: forbidden black rice, purple sticky rice, and Himalayan red rice. And I'm happy to report that in the couple of weeks since the pantry re-do, all three have seen some quality stove time, to very positive review from my resident food critic, mr. yogi (boys need carbs, apparently? I dunno, learning as I go along ;)

For the red rice, I came upon yet another promising preparation from Chef Yotam (aka Ottolenghi) for a red rice and quinoa salad by way of 101 Cookbooks. As it turned out I had nearly all the ingredients -- or suitable substitutes -- at home (minus the quinoa, which I decided to leave out so the red rice would be the starring grain). So it was the one to guide me.

I soaked the rice during the day while I was at work, which shaves down the cooking time a bit, and when I arrived home, roasted off some thinly sliced fennel and red onion while the rice cooked. The red rice is beautiful, with a satisfying chew and nutty flavor: a bit fruitier and more complex than the brown rice I usually cook with. Finished with a sweet and savory combination of dried apricots, walnuts, scallions, cilantro, and a bright, ginger-spiked citrus vinaigrette, this is simple, whole grain cooking at its best.

Red Rice with Roasted Fennel, Red Onion and Apricots
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Red Rice and Quinoa

Serve as an accompaniment to a protein, or over a heap of leafy greens for a lighter one-bowl meal.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

1 cup red rice, soaked for 6 to 8 hours in water to cover, rinsed and drained (see note)
1-1/4 cups water
1 fennel bulb (about 1/2 pound), thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
grated zest + juice of 1 lemon
1 small garlic clove, grated or crushed (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (to taste)
1/2 cup dried apricots, sliced
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

1. Combine rice and water in a medium pot. Add a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover pot. Cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender but not mushy, 35 to 40 minutes. Gently fluff rice with a fork and keep covered until ready to use.

2. Combine fennel, onion, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and a big pinch of salt in a large bowl. Toss to coat. Transfer vegetables to a sheet tray and roast at 400F until tender and caramelized around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

3. Whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, and chile flakes in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

4. Transfer rice and fennel-onion mixture to bowl with vinaigrette. Add apricots, walnuts, scallions, and cilantro; toss to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, if needed. Serve warm.

Note: Soaking the rice shortens cooking time and, in general, increases the digestibility of whole grains, as well as making the minerals they contain easier to absorb. If you do not have time for a soak, give the rice a good rinse in cold water and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer than noted in step 1, above.

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