Rice, the Seeds of Life
Intro by Elisa Bosley
Recipes by Patti Bess

Open your senses to the worldwide appeal of this simple grain.

At the height of India's rice harvest, dusty open-air markets swarm with people bent over bulging burlap sacks, purchasing rice by the bushel: fragrant, nutty basmati; delicate gobindavog; exotic Bhutanese red. Near the warm Mediterranean, paella pans — round, shallow, heavy, ranging from large to enormous — hang from hooks in market stalls in the shadow of ancient cathedrals, waiting to transform superfino Spanish rice into a regal meal. And in Latin America, rice is the cornerstone of every meal: topped with fried plantains at breakfast, thickening grandmother's black bean and avocado soup for the main midday meal, simmered with freshly grated coconut and sweet cream for that favorite evening dessert, arroz con leche.

Rice is the great equalizer. Featured in more cuisines and cultures than any other food throughout history, it can legitimately be called the seeds of life. Its affordability and ease of preparation make it a worldwide favorite; the Japanese call plain cooked rice gohan, or "honorable food." Every kind of rice — short-grained and sticky, long-grained and fluffy, medium-grained and creamy — is a nutritional boon, easy to digest, cholesterol-free and filled with complex carbohydrates and fiber to fuel the body and feed the soul. Unrivaled in its versatility, it is a most accommodating staple: able to be rolled, pounded, scooped, fluffed, paired only with salt or smothered with gourmet accoutrements. It is at once comfortable and exciting, familiar yet surprising — as witnessed by the many varieties, such as Chinese black rice, Louisiana pecan rice and Wehani red rice, now appearing in Western markets.

Let yourself be seduced by rice with these savory recipes from around the globe. Whether eaten in Kathmandu or at your kitchen table, you'll be enchanted by the possibilities.

Risotto con FagioliRisotto con Fagioli
Serves 6

This classic Italian risotto with beans — fagioli — comes from Tuscany. A medium-grain rice can be substituted for arborio.

Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cooking Time: 25 Minutes

5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced onion
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup cooked Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained if canned
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Bring broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on stove top. Heat butter and oil in heavy 4-quart saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and sauté for 1­2 minutes until it begins to soften, being careful not to brown it. Add tomatoes and cook for 3­4 minutes.

2. Reduce heat to a simmer and add rice. Stir for 1 minute to make sure all grains are well coated. Add 1/2 cup simmering broth and stir until it is completely absorbed. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each addition is almost completely absorbed. Reserve about 1/4 cup.

3. After stirring approximately 18 minutes, when rice is tender but still firm, add reserved broth. Turn off heat and add beans, cheese and basil or parsley. Stir vigorously to combine with rice. Add salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 279 Fat: 6 g % fat calories: 19 Cholesterol: 8 mg Carbohydrate: 46 g Protein: 9 g

Mexican Green Rice (Arroz Verde)
Serves 6

In most Mexican households, this herb-laced rice is served on special occasions.

Prep Time: 5­10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 45 Minutes

1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
2 fresh poblano chile peppers, inner membrane and seeds discarded
3­4 cloves garlic
1/2 green (sweet) pepper, inner membrane and seeds removed
2/3 cup packed fresh cilantro, divided
2 tablespoons high-quality vegetable oil
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Combine chile peppers, garlic, sweet pepper, 1/2 cup cilantro and onion in blender; pulse until finely chopped but not puréed. Set aside.

2. Add oil to medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add chile mixture and sauté for 3 minutes. Add rice and sauté until grains are thoroughly coated, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Simmer 40­45 minutes.

3. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and add salt. Garnish with additional cilantro.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 184 Fat: 6 g % fat calories: 27 Cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 30 g Protein: 3 g

Grilled Vegetable PaellaGrilled Vegetable Paella
Serves 8

Paellas were first cooked many centuries ago in the farmlands of Spain, over an open fire. They are still prepared this way, but also cook well on a charcoal or gas grill.

Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cooking Time: 30­40 Minutes

6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
3-4 Roma tomatoes
1 10-ounce package frozen
artichoke hearts
1/2 cup green beans
2 summer squash, sliced lengthwise
1 green or yellow pepper, halved
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, quartered and sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice or other medium-grain rice
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

1. Prepare a fire in a kettle grill or preheat a gas grill to high.

2. Combine broth and saffron in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover; set aside.

3. Dice tomatoes. Slice artichoke hearts in half and cut green beans into 1-inch slices. Set vegetables aside in individual bowls.

4. Place summer squashes and pepper on grill. Cook for 4­5 minutes on each side. Leave pepper on grill until its skin is evenly charred. Remove and set aside until cool. Remove the charred pepper skin and cut pepper into 1-inch pieces.

5. Add olive oil to a paellera or large cast- iron skillet. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3­5 minutes or until slightly caramelized. Add rice to pan and sauté 1­2 minutes more.

6. Stir in a third of boiling broth mixture. Add cut-up peppers and squashes, tomatoes, salt, pepper and paprika. As broth is absorbed, add more until rice is tender. Add green beans and artichokes the last 5 minutes of cooking. Cover paella with a clean dish towel and let sit for 5 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 232 Fat: 6 g % fat calories: 22 Cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 41 g Protein: 5 g

Vegetable Biryani
Serves 12

The crowning glory of India's rice dishes is the Biryani. Some of the rice in this colorful dish will turn yellow, while some will be white.

Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cooking Time: 40 Minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (preferably black)
1/8 ­ 1/4 teaspoon cayenne to taste
3/4 teaspoon garam masala (a spice blend)
3/4 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 cauliflower, cut into flowerets
2 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
2 potatoes, cut into large cubes
1/2 large eggplant, cut into1-inch cubes
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups tomato purée
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked basmati rice, divided
1/2 cup chopped, toasted almonds
1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add poppy and mustard seeds and cook over medium-low heat until seeds start to pop. Reduce heat to low and stir in remaining spices. Cook for 1 minute.

2. Increase heat to medium-high and add vegetables. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add water, tomato purée and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are almost tender, about 10­15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup rice; mix.

3. Preheat oven to 350º Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

4. Spread the vegetable and rice mixture in baking pan, then top with remaining rice. Sprinkle with nuts and raisins. Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 183 Fat: 5 g % fat calories: 26 Cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 31 g Protein: 4 g

Rice PuddingAlmond Rice Pudding with Dried Cherries
Serves 8

Traditional rice pudding has a long history in both Great Britain and the United States. This uniquely flavored dessert is also very low in fat.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cooking Time: 50 Minutes

1 1/3 cups nonfat milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup brown sugar or 1/4 cup honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 cups short-grain cooked rice

1. Preheat oven to 325º Lightly grease a baking dish with lid (or use individual ramekins).

2. Combine milk, almond extract, eggs, sugar, salt, butter and lemon juice. Beat well. Add cherries and rice; stir to combine. Pour mixture into baking dish.

3. Cover and bake until set, about 45­50 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 152 Fat: 3 g % fat calories: 15 Cholesterol: 31 mg Carbohydrate: 29 g Protein: 4 g

Patti Bess is the author of Vegetarian Barbecue (Lowell House). Elisa Bosley is associate editor for Delicious!

Photography by: Laurie Smith