The Yajurveda, one of the four key Sanskrit texts of Hinduism, describes the making of rice cakes as a ritual offering to Agni, the God of Fire. The Shunya Purana, written by Ramai the Wise in the 10th - 11th century AD, states that 50 varieties of rice, such as Nagra, Jhinga-sal and Panloi, were grown in Bengal even then. Many of those varieties are now extinct but these three varieties are still being conserved on special farms by rice conservationists.
Early European visitors to India were not familiar with rice. Aristobulus, who came with Alexander the Great around 326 BCE, described it as a strange plant standing in water, and the Greek explorer Megasthenes described it as being a staple in the Indian diet.
Each region of India has unique rice preparations. It is cooked in its grain form, beaten to make flat rice ‘poha’ or crushed into flour for batters and poppadums. In Maharashtra and southern India it is served in courses, accompanied by a different curry or lentil dish each time.
Rice provides a major proportion of calories in the diet. It is always eaten in combination with dal or beans to make a complete protein. Rice contains the cysteine and methionine that lentils lack and lentils provide the lysine that rice does not have enough of.
Classification of Rice
Size of Grain
Long-grain rice: The grains are slim and four to five times longer than they are wide. They are known to cook fluffier than the other varieties and are therefore usually more expensive. Long-grain rice is used in biryanis and pulaos, such as Murgh Dum Biryani and Pudina Pulao, as the rice needs to be fluffy and separate.
Medium-grain rice: The grains are almost twice as long as they are wide and cook softer and moister than long-grain rice. This is used in everyday meals as it helps to hold together wet curries and dals. Typical recipes include Mung Dal Khichdi and Mosaranna.
Short-grain rice: This looks slightly oval or round in shape. It is quite starchy and may be used for rice pudding-style dishes such as Rice Kheer and Phirni.
When rice is harvested, it is first called ‘rough rice’ and is still covered by a non-edible husk. At the mill, rough rice is processed through sorting machines that clean the kernels and remove foreign matter. The husk is then removed, leaving brown rice with the bran layers still surrounding the rice kernel. Grains of brown rice are polished by removing the bran layers, revealing white rice.
As the most nutritious layers of the rice grain have been removed in the milling process, white rice is often enriched with thiamin, niacin and iron to restore it back to its original levels and help prevent conditions such as cardiovascular disease and anaemia.
Some of the rice is separated to go through an extra initial processing step that will turn it into parboiled rice. Parboiled rice is brown rice that is steamed or parboiled so that nutrients from the outer husk move into the grain itself.
This is the most widely available rice all over the world. It is sold under various brand names, and bags of rice sometimes mention that the rice has been aged. Basmati rice, like wine, gets better with age. Top-quality basmati is stored for 1 to 2 years in highly-controlled conditions. Optimum temperature and low moisture levels help to dry the rice and harden the outer shell. This enhances and intensifies its taste, bouquet and cooking characteristics: old rice cooks up fluffy, with separate grains, while new rice can become sticky.
How to Cook Rice
Cleaning: Rice has to be cleaned when it is sold loose from burlap sacks. Traditionally it is sifted and cleaned in a ‘supdi’, a small, flat cane basket where the rice is tossed up and down gently to separate it from tiny stones or foreign particles. It can also be spread on a white dinner plate and small quantities worked to the opposite side of the plate, picking out any foreign objects. When rice is sold bagged, this process is not necessary.
Washing: Put rice into a bowl and pour in cold water from the tap. Then the fingers are swirled through to loosen the starch from the grains and the water is carefully poured off. Without experience, this may seem tricky so it is best to wash the rice in a sieve under cold running water for a couple of minutes until the water runs clear.
Soaking: After washing, you can soak the rice for anywhere between 15 minutes to 1 hour to allow the grains to absorb moisture, relax and expand. Basmati rice cooks well, depending on the recipe, even if it isn’t soaked.
Plain Boiled Rice Recipe - Absorption Method
Plain rice is the most popular rice as it acts as the perfect backdrop to flavourful curries and dals.
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Measure the rice in a measuring jug, then wash in a sieve, drain and put into a heavy-based saucepan with double the amount of water to rice (measured in the same jug). Bring to the boil without stirring.
Reduce the heat to low, stir once gently and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave the rice to rest for 5 minutes, covered.
Remove the lid, gently run a fork through the rice to loosen it, and serve hot.
Plain Boiled Rice Recipe - Draining Method
This is a good way of cooking rice when you have many dishes on the go. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be able to judge how long it takes to cook perfect rice in your pan, and with the rice you normally buy. You can use this method with brown or wholegrain basmati rice but the cooking time will be longer - allow 30 to 45 minutes of simmering time.
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
Measure the rice in a measuring jug, then wash in a sieve, drain and set aside. Put six times the volume of water (measured in the same jug) to rice in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. You can also use boiling water from the kettle.
Add the rice and stir once, gently. Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is done. This can take 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your pan and heat source. Partially covering your pan will cook the rice faster. You can test the rice by squashing a grain between your thumb and forefinger or simply by tasting it.
Drain the rice through a sieve, allowing all the water to drain away. Serve hot.