A geek’s guide to cooking brown rice

I’m evangelical about brown rice, yet I used to find it tasted like cardboard, felt like a solid brick in my tummy, and wasn’t exactly a joy to cook. For foodies who love food too much it’s the ideal basis for home meals because it gives your digestive system a rest from rich food, it’s filling, it’s nutritious, and so versatile you’ll never think brown is boring.

Unstyled: Quick lunch - brown rice topped with salad, seeds, avocado and steamed carrots
Unstyled: Quick lunch – brown rice topped with salad, seeds, avocado and steamed carrots

This post really is a geek’s guide, so yes it’s detailed and long: scroll through for general tips, the Sunshine Foodie master recipe for cooking brown rice, a formula for creating different dishes, tips on fast food brown rice eating, and some tips for family eating. 

Mix brown and white   If you’ve had terrible experiences and really can’t face brown rice, then go brown gradually: mix brown into a short grain white rice like arborio and build up to it. Or try wild rice mixes as these often have a white long grain base and add extra brown.

Choose rice grown closest to you  When macrobiotic expert Marlene Watson Tara recommended this tip to me I was amazed that it made a huge difference. Short grain Italian sunshine rice agreed with me very well indeed. The food we eat that’s grown closest to us benefits us the most and of course is ecologically a sound way to eat. Maybe it’s because this is the food our genes recognise and respond to?

Soak overnight in hot water   So here’s the big secret to cooking brown rice: prepping it with hot water. This is a tip I came across from Kundalini yoga. The rice is rid of the heavy ‘dusty’ outer part that sits in our stomach and the hot water begins to slowly break down the rice, effectively steaming and pre-cooking it. The result is lighter, fluffier, tastier.

Rice is the base   Brown rice is perfect base for any other food of your choice. It soaks up sauces, adds sustenance to any vegetable soup, and is tasty with the merest addition of anything. A few squeezes of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, a few grinds of pepper are just the start, though I can happily stop here.

It’s not all (brown) or nothing   Note that I don’t only eat brown short grain rice. I am a huge rice fan. Some dishes just don’t suit brown rice. Greek stuffed vegetables (vegetarian with pine nuts or with minced lamb) are too heavy with brown rice.  For every day home eating I go short grain brown. Sometimes I’ll use long grain brown, or a mix of white long grain with wild or red rice. Some dishes need a classic white basmati, fancier risottos work best with arborio or carnaroli rices, as do paella and similar Spanish dishes. Brown basmati rice pairs well with Indian/Pan-Asian cuisines though some dishes are best with white basmati.

Add clean and lean   As soon as you start to overload brown rice with garlic, spices, sauces, fat, cream, protein it screams NoooooOOOOOOOoooooooooOoo. It’s a clean food that helps you eat clean and lean whilst delivering nutrients and sustenance. For anyone who is pushed for time (and that’s most of us) it’s hugely convenient. With the Sunshine Foodie cooking method, you won’t  need to add much for a packed lunch or easy dinner. Add vegetables, add a little protein, add a little phyto-flavour, add a little quality fat. I hope to encourage you to discover that’s it’s way more convenient than white pasta (and healthier), and way tastier and more flexible than wholegrain pastas .

For those of you cooking for families this is a great way to fill up hungry tummies, and for solo eaters this a great way of limiting cooking. Whether you are cooking for one, two, or a hoard, this is your easy basic to customise. You are vegetarian and he’s not? No problem. The teenagers eat like wolves? No problem. You can’t be bothered to cook from scratch every day for yourself? No problem.

Unstyled fast food lunch: brown rice with peas, spinach, beetroot and tomatoes
Unstyled fast food lunch: brown rice with peas, spinach, beetroot and tomatoes

Here is the Sunshine Foodie basic brown rice cooking method:

Measure out a big cup of rice into a saucepan, top with boiling water from the kettle in the morning before you go to work, or the night before. You can even do two loads – evening and morning. Make sure the saucepan has a tight lid.

Rinse in a sieve when ready to cook, and pop back in the saucepan with double the amount of liquid (so 1 cup uncooked rice – 2 cups liquid). You can use just-boiled water from the kettle and add a tsp of sea salt or a sprinkle of an organic low salt stock. I like to save liquid from steaming/blanching/boiling vegetables to then use up for cooking rice. This adds light gorgeous flavour and nutrients, and it means nothing is wasted.

Bring to the boil, then simmer. After 20 minutes start to check. Do not stir.

When you see deep holes forming, and the liquid has almost been absorbed, turn off the heat and leave for ten minutes.  This will happen somewhere between the 20-30 minute point, depending on the size of your pan, how long you have soaked the rice for the quantity you are cooking.

This is your plain basic miracle food.

If you are building up to brown rice from white:

Choose a rice YOU like.

Measure out a cup minus a quarter. Soak just the quarter of brown rice as above. Then add it to your chosen rice/method. During this transition period expect a less than perfect, stickier, uneven rice, but don’t worry, we’re not entering Masterchef here, this is just a taste adjustment.

When you get past the half point start using the cooking method above (add the non soaked white rice to the soaked brown rice and go through the 15 minutes and then leave for 10). It’ll still be a bit sticky and imperfect.

An alternative to the above gradual faff is to subtract a tablespoon from the cup of brown when soaking, and then add a tablespoon of white short grain when you’re about to cook. You’ll get a creamier consistency, a little pudding or risotto like, which is quite nice for dinners, but not so perfect for packed lunches.

The formula for customizing your brown rice:

However much rice you need to satisfy your hunger +

Clean seasoning (sea salt, pepper; citrus or good vinegar; olive oil) +

Cooked vegetable (s) +

Something raw (fresh herbs, rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes) +

Some seeds (ground flaxseeds;  sunflower or pumpkin ideally toasted) +

Something extra for a complete protein (peas or any pulses)

Or

Some animal protein (Greek yogurt or feta or even a mix works a dream; grated hard Italian cheese is another option; egg too)

A note on protein  If you need/want to add meat, poultry, fish, add it sliced, shredded or diced rather than a big chunk. For this meal your sustenance comes from the good, slow-burning carbs.

You don’t necessarily need a formula:

Add your repertoire of pasta sauces

Add whatever you would add to tacos

Add whatever you might add to an omelette

Add whatever takes your fancy from the deli

Add leftovers

For families   You can slowly organize jars with toppings; fill the table with options and let everyone create their own dish. If you are cutting down on full fat dairy but your children need it, this is a perfect way to get round the problem. If one member of the family is vegan, another veggie but not vegan, your partner is watching cholesterol, your teenager is fretting about puppy fat, another teenager eats everything insight, a visiting friend has an intolerance  –  no problem.  Train everyone to sprinkle what they need from the jar or use use a clean spoon rather than their own fork. That way you pop lids back on, pop back into the fridge. For added convenience keep everything in a box -like tray, train the family to return the containers into the tray, then just pop back in the fridge.  People love to create their own dish whilst surrounded by others doing the same.  Fussy children eat more (and that includes colourful vegetables) when having fun creating their meals.

Enjoy 🙂

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