R.I.C.E (Really Important Culinary Element)

There is a very important person in my life. Possible this blog’s biggest fan, since its birth she has read and reread every article, quoted back (sometimes accurately) fun facts she has learnt, and well, basically gotten the number of website hits into double digits. So, as a token of thanks, this article is dedicated to her one true love. Rice.

Let’s ignore the fact that rice is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's population and is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after corn. Let’s also ignore it is the most important grain for human’s energy intake, providing more than 20% of the kilojoules consumed worldwide by humans. For my friend, it is her comforter and source of nourishment, and when most women find they are craving chocolate on a monthly cycle, for her, it is rice that satisfies her craving.

Rice originated in Asia, where it is often consumed every day, three meals a day. Whilst this may sound dreamful to my friend, in the past beriberi, a potentially deadly disease caused by thiamine deficiency, has been very common in these populations. Whilst the husk of rice contains thiamine, removing this prolongs the lifespan of the rice. Hence a high reliance on white rice can lead to this disease, when the rest of the diet is also lacking in variety, such as in extreme poverty. Reason one to switch to brown rice.

But back to happy rice thoughts. Perhaps my friend’s fondest rice-related memory is sleeping in the middle of rice paddies somewhere in southern Cambodia, being fed plate after plate of freshly-picked rice by a Cambodian villager who has the most remarkable story of growing up during the Khmer Rouge. Fortunate enough to share this experience with my friend, I can agree this rates as one of life’s special moments. For that reason, one dish I would love to share with you is Cambodian Sticky Coconut Rice- Dong Bai Treip. A common dish across South East Asia, it uses short grain or sticky rice which, due to the type of starch in it (high amylopectin, low amylose starch, for those playing at home), becomes sticky when cooked. Sticky rice is also referred to as glutinous rice, but don’t let the name fool you- like all rices, it is gluten free. Despite the use of an oven, which I can safely safe the majority of Khmer people do not use, this recipe comes straight from the hands of a Cambodian orphanage so let’s not question the authenticity too much…

Because, in my eyes at least, the Italian’s invented eating, it is no surprise they’ve taken advantage of the chemical structure of short grain rice to create their own signature dish with it. Arancini. Or technically, Risotto. Risotto, made using an absorption method to release the starch and make the dish creamy and sticky, forms the basis of Arancini- little balls of tastiness. The risotto is formed into a ball (or in some parts of Italy, into a cone), filled with a meat sauce, cheese and/or peas, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried. Not very creative with names, arancini are named after arance (the Italian word for oranges), thanks to their shape and color. As much as this hurts to admit, my brother is probably the chef in the family. His engineering background means he follows recipes to a T, and does crazy things like measures things exactly. Consequently, his food always tastes amazing. So instead of sharing Nonna’s arancini recipe, I’m going to share his. And I can guarantee that if you too follow this engineer-style, these will be the tastiest little rice balls your mouth has seen.

Finally, you don’t need a dietetics degree to know deep frying isn’t the best health strategy going around. So, at risk of being shun from the Italo-Australian community, I’m going to experiment with this recipe, and compare the taste and nutrition of deep fried vs. baked arancini. Intrigued? Follow me…