In this series, we’ll be looking at ingredients which are common in Chinese supermarkets (超市,chāo shì) , but may be rare or expensive in our home countries. Each post includes a recipe, so you can start exploring a new world of food!
Black rice is sometimes known as “Forbidden Rice”, not because of its forbidding appearance, but from the idea that it was once reserved only for the Emperor and his family. The price is certainly forbidding in the west, where its been hailed as a “superfood”, and features in many a hipster’s bowl.
Black rice is the same basic species as plain old white, Oryza sativa, so is it really as good for you as some claim? Nutritionist Jessica Cording, quoted in mensjournal.com, says it has a similar nutritional profile to brown rice, packed with fiber, but higher in vitamin E and lower in calories. And its black color is derived from high levels of anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant which also puts the blue in blueberries. The alleged benefits of antioxidants are still controversial, but there is some evidence linking black rice with reduced cholesterol.
Most importantly though it’s delicious, with a sweeter, nuttier taste than brown rice and a more forgiving texture. You’ll usually find it in Chinese supermarkets in vacuum sealed packets with the dried beans and pulses, near the hot pot ingredients. At around RMB 15-20 for 500g it’s pricier than standard white rice, but much cheaper than back home. So why not treat yourself to something special?
(Note for the health conscious: all rice in China carries trace amounts of arsenic. If this concerns you, then don’t use a rice cooker or the “full absorption” technique. Cook the rice in excess water, then drain it and throw the cooking water away.)
You can use black rice pretty much anywhere you’d use the standard stuff, but this recipe is a favorite of ours for the nights where everyone’s coming home hungry at a different time, and sitting down together for a hot meal isn’t an option.
Black Rice and Pumpkin Salad
Ingredients (feeds four hungry people):
250g black rice (about 2 cups)
One medium pumpkin (you can use any squash, or even sweet potatoes)
2 good size cucumbers, chopped
100g cherry tomatoes
A handful of sliced green onions (or finely chopped red onion, if you prefer)
180g bacon (this is the standard small size packet in supermarkets)
100g almonds (toasted if you can be bothered)
A large lemon
Olive oil (if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try good quality peanut oil instead)
Cumin and/ or paprika
1. (The night before🙂 Wash the rice thoroughly, and put it in a bowl, covered with water. Leave to stand overnight.
2. Drain the rice and wash again. Cook it in plenty of salted water for 30 minutes, drain, and leave to cool. While it’s cooking:
3. Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out all the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon, then peel it and chop it into one inch chunks. (Don’t stress too much about getting them the exact size, it’s not a big deal.) Put the chunks on a baking tray or dish, season with cumin and/ or paprika (to your taste), splash over a good glug of oil, and mix it all up with your hands. Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 celsius). While it’s cooking:
4. Fry or grill the bacon till it’s crispy, then, when it’s cool, break it into little bits.
5. Zest the lemon, then squeeze out all the juice.
6. When the rice and the pumpkin have cooled a little, mix them in a big bowl with the cucumber, onions, tomatoes, almonds, bacon bits, and lemon zest. (I sometimes add feta cheese, though this is cheating for the purposes of this blog, which is about using local ingredients!)
7. To make the dressing, mix the lemon juice with half as much oil. Add to your taste, and season with salt and pepper if you like. (You may find the bacon makes it salty enough).
The great thing about this recipe is that you can change or swap pretty much any of the ingredients as you like. Aim for a sweet and nutty combination that will really complement the flavor of the black rice – and enjoy a dish fit for an Emperor’s table!