Short-grain, long-grain, basmati — you're probably familiar with these standby rice varieties. But have you heard of Chinese black, Wehani, and Bhutanese red? There's a whole world of rice out there, and these and other exquisite rice grains are now readily available in natural groceries. Even better: Unlike white rice, whole-grain types like those presented here have intact bran layers, meaning they possess valuable vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
In addition to its nutritional value, that bran layer is what bestows distinguishing color on each variety — from sexy and striking Chinese black to chestnut-brown Wehani — making it easy to create meals that are healthy and visually vibrant. As an added bonus, many take only about 30 minutes to cook. And, like all rice, they're naturally gluten free. So keep enjoying basic brown, but have fun experimenting with some of rice's more exotic cousins, too.
Black Japonica Rice with Thai Chicken Curry
Serves 6 / Ingredient tips: Black Japonica is actually a blend of Japanese short-grain black rice and medium-grain mahogany rice, also developed by Lundberg Family Farms. Thanks to the flavor-packed Thai curry paste, available in most grocery stores, this curry has complex flavor though it is quick and easy to prepare. Serving tip: Best eaten immediately. View Recipe
Wehani Rice Seafood Paella
Serves 8 / Ingredient tip: Wehani, developed by Lundberg Family Farms, is a reddish-brown hybrid of Indian basmati and long-grain brown rice. In this paella, it offers a pleasing taste and texture variation when combined with short-grain brown rice. Prep tip: Toasting the rice cracks the bran layer and causes the grains to burst open and become soft and creamy as they cook. View Recipe
Nice rice: Delectable, whole-grain rice offeringsBrown rice cereal. Many breakfast cereals use brown rice flour and sometimes corn meal, which is also gluten-free.
Brown rice chips. These make great snacks. Those flavored with sea vegetables and sesame seeds are especially yummy.
Brown rice flour. Use in combination with other gluten-free flours for better texture and nutrition. Not ideal for yeast breads.
Brown rice pasta. Unlike many whole-grain pastas of the past, this has terrific texture. It’s also a boon to the cook because it doesn’t get overcooked or mushy in a flash. Tinkyada brown rice pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, including lasagna noodles.
Brown rice tortillas. Tasty and ideal for wraps.
Bhutanese Red Rice Pilaf
Serves 6-8 / Ingredient tips: Bhutanese red rice has a faint honeylike sweetness, accentuated in this pilaf by sweet fennel seeds and currants. This delicate rice is grown at high altitudes in the Himalayas and is imported and packaged by Lotus Foods. Because some of the bran is removed in processing, it cooks in about 20 minutes, so it's a good choice when you have to get dinner on the table quickly. Prep tip: Use a mortar and pestle to coarsely crush the fennel seeds. View Recipe
Coconut Black Rice Pudding
Serves 8 / Ingredient tips: Medium-grain Chinese black rice is often sold under its trademarked name, Forbidden Black Rice, and brings elegant sophistication to any meal. The rice bleeds a very deep indigo color as it cooks. Because the bran layer is intact, this pudding is chewier than traditional melt-in-your-mouth white rice puddings, but it will be equally well received. View Recipe
Puffed Brown Rice Tabbouleh with Red Cabbage
Serves 6 / This refreshing salad combines classic tabbouleh ingredients but substitutes puffed brown rice for traditional bulgur and adds red cabbage for color and crunch. Ingredient tip: Puffed brown rice is rice's version of popcorn; be sure to use the unsweetened variety. Serving tip: To round out the meal, serve with hummus and whole-wheat pita bread. View Recipe
Web Exclusive: Brown Jasmine Rice Soup with Cannellini, Spinach, and Rosemary
Serves 10 / Ingredient tip: Brown jasmine is a slender, aromatic long-grain rice that cooks in about 30 minutes. Originally from Thailand, this delicate rice is versatile and moist. Look for organic varieties in bulk bins or prepackaged. View Recipe.
Lorna Sass, affectionately known as The Grain Goddess, is the author of 14 cookbooks. Her latest, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way (Clarkson Potter, 2006) won the James Beard Foundation Award in the healthy focus category. Visit her at lornasass.com.