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Rice and shine

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai’s mushroom risotto has been a runaway success with guests from the day it made its debut on the menu at the Olive Bar & Kitchen in Delhi. One crucial secret behind Gorai’s delicious creation was the Californian black rice that he added to the traditional Arborio — a short-grain Italian rice — to create his signature dish. While the Arborio makes the risotto glutinous, the black rice adds a bite to the dish. Gorai — popularly known as Chef Saby — reckons that is what makes his version of the Italian risotto so different from the regular one.

Meanwhile chef Nishant Choubey, executive sous chef, Dusit Devarana New Delhi peps up Jambalaya — a Creole dish rooted in Louisiana that’s quite similar to a risotto — with wild rice. His first experiments with the Jambalaya happened with black rice since it was starchy and absorbed the sauces well. But he fine-tuned the dish with wild rice as the longer grains and better texture suited Jambalaya much better. Grown in the Northeast, in India, this wild rice is priced at a whopping Rs 900 per kilo.

Chef Saby mixes Arborio and Californian black rice in his signature mushroom risotto; Pic by Rupinder Sharma

Rice, as we all know, is consumed in vast quantities in the Indian subcontinent. And for any cook who wants to create a biryani or a pulao it’s the long-grained basmati — usually from Dehradun — that must be pulled out of the storeroom. But there’s more to rice than just being fluffy white, long-grained or delicately perfumed.

Top chefs, who are trailblazers of sorts, are already using different types of rice from around the world in their kitchens. And one look is enough to reveal how narrow the Indian rice experience has been. Today, the variants of rice can be long, medium, short or even pearly-grained. And as for the colours — there are shades of pale yellow, brown, red, green and even purplish black.

Chefs are experimenting big time with Manipuri black rice in sushi rolls. They are pepping up Oriental dishes with wild rice — that’s long-grained, black-brown in colour — from as far as the Caribbean.

Wild rice from closer home, Goa, finds its way into the paella. And then there is red rice, which has traditionally been used, amongst other things, to make payasam, and has now found its way into contemporary cooking. And of course, brown rice pops up in dishes, which were traditionally the exclusive preserve of white basmati rice.

The good news — if you thought you have to trawl far to locate these different varieties of rice — is that you can find these new varieties at a supermarket not far from you.

Wild rice is chef Nishant Choubey’s (above) pick for the Jambalaya, a Louisiana Creole delicacy; (below) chef Devraj Haldar’s spicy basil rice gets its rich colour from the red rice used in the preparation

For those who came in late, Manipuri black rice is really a dark shade of burgundy. Soak it in water and it imparts a deep tint of the same colour to the water too. Californian wild rice (biologically it is a grass and not a grain) costs a mind-blowing Rs 2,000 per kilo since it’s not grown in bulk.

Red rice varieties on the other hand come in many different shades of red — from brick orange to a pale pink and also in sizes, which can go from pearly to long-grained. Grown in several parts of the country including Kerala, Karnataka, the Sunderbans and Uttar Pradesh, prices vary between Rs 45 and Rs 80 per kilo.

Chef Devraj Halder, executive assistant manager, food & beverage, the Fern Hotel, Jaipur, puts together a dish called spicy basil rice which he drums up using red rice for an enhanced colour. He says: “If I used brown rice, the dish would end up being an unappetising dirty-red colour. The red rice enhances the colour and flavour of the dish.”

G. Krishna Prasad, director of Sahaja Samrudha, a Bangalore-based organisation that works to preserve and improve indigenous crop varieties and also organises rice melas, lists the health benefits of red rice: “One of the varieties in Karnataka, the Karikalave that’s specific to Gulbarga and Bidar regions, is rich in iron. Other red rice varieties are rich in dietary fibre while others still are supposedly suitable for people with diabetes.” Red rice is known to be a remedy for lowering total cholesterol, LDL levels and triglyceride levels.

The other varieties of coloured rice too pack a nutritive punch. The hull (the husk) of the Manipuri black rice, contains Vitamin E and a range of B-vitamins as well as minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. It also has anthocyanins that give the rice its deep, black-purple colour and is a high source of antioxidants. Brown rice could well give you 14 per cent of the recommended daily value of fibre, an important nutrient that protects against colon cancer and breast cancer. The Californian wild rice is a high fibre complex carbohydrate. It has good quality protein and is also fat free.

Coloured rice varieties score on other counts too. Food consultant and writer, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal says: “Besides their nutritional properties, coloured rice varieties should be enjoyed for their texture, flavour and aroma.”

Chef Soumya Goswami, executive chef, The Oberoi New Delhi, says that the new varieties of rice doing the rounds lend a better taste and bite to the dish. “These also absorb the flavour of curries well,” says Goswami.

Since Rakesh Prasad, executive chef, The Suryaa, New Delhi, loves to experiment, he decided to create a dish of three different varieties of rice. The three-layered dish had risotto made with wild rice combined with kabsa rice which is the name of a dish from the Mediterranean (he used basmati) and finally threw in a layer of Indian khichdi made from Arborio. “I layered them one on top of the other,” says Prasad.

Baked phyllo stuffed with wild rice and greens is one of chef Rakesh Prasad’s (above) specialities ; Pic by Rupinder Sharma

His other specialty is the baked phyllo cup stuffed with wild rice and baby mescluns salad (assorted small, young salad leaves which include lettuce, spinach, arugula mustard greens, and/or other leaf vegetables) and which originated from Provence, France.

Chef Vishal Atreya, executive sous chef, The Imperial New Delhi, ups the nutrition quotient in his favoured dish, Guzaette Merluzzo or grilled fish served on a bed of potatoes, with wild rice. In his variation, he replaces the potatoes with a dish of vegetables that have been slow-cooked with Californian wild rice. Says Chef Atreya: “Wild rice increases the fibre and roughage components of the dish as it is high on both as compared to any other variety of rice.”

Besides the newer varieties of rice, the tried-and-tested brown rice is still a favourite. And it’s being given a new spin by the chefs. Chef Choubey promises to transform a simple stew of brown rice, vegetables and meat to something that will satisfy the palate and look appealing too. He says: “Brown rice has a mild, nutty flavour which complements risottos and salads. The nutty flavour goes well with sea bass and adds a bite to the dish.”

Ritika Samaddar, regional head — dietetics, Max Healthcare, too champions the cause of brown rice. Since many people don’t appreciate the chewy texture of brown rice, she says that she camouflages it by using it in salads. She simply boils the brown rice and adds it to salad greens along with the dressing of choice.

So, just go ahead and colour your rice plate in shades that do not remotely resemble white.

BLACK RICE

Ideal for: Risottos, payasams, kheer
Doing it differently: Replace the gohan rice typically used in sushi rolls with sticky black rice from Manipur to make it healthier.

WILD RICE

Ideal for: Oriental dishes and contemporary Continental or fusion cooking.
Doing it differently: Use it for khichdi or for a porridge.

BROWN RICE

Ideal for: Biryanis and as a replacement for the regular white rice.
Doing it differently: Add some bite to your salad with brown rice.

RED RICE

Ideal for: Risotto, pulao , rice custard
Doing it differently: Rather than using the wild rice, make Jambalaya, which is similar to paella from Spain, with red rice.