My daughters like to give samples of their home cooked sweets to their friends, and the friends’ families get to enjoy them too. In reciprocal moves, we find ourselves on the receiving end too. It’s amusing, really, that although Speedy and I haven’t personally met the parents of many of our daughters’ friends, we feel that we know them, in a manner of speaking, because of these food exchanges. It may sound like a cliché but it is nonetheless true that food is a social medium—a means for strangers to get to know one another by learning how and what other people eat. That was how my family was introduced to adlai, also called Job’s Tears, a grain that looks like cracked rice but, when cooked, has the texture of pasta cooked al dente.
It was just another Thursday and it would have been a Thursday like all the rest but, before noon, Speedy woke me up to sign a delivery receipt. I wasn’t sure where it came from but I was too sleepy to ask. The next time I opened my eyes, there was a heavy package on the couch beside the bed. I tore it open and inside were two bags of Arabica and a bag of adlai. Alex said they were from her friend’s mom. Alex was making cauliflower casserole for lunch and, instead of cooking rice to go with it, I asked Speedy to try the adlai instead. The cooking instructions were right there on the label—boil one part adlai and two parts water, and cook it just like rice.
While the adlai was cooking and the cauliflower casserole was in the oven, I read up on adlai. Although I had heard of it before, I was surprised to read that as early as 2010, the then Secretary of Agriculture, Proceso Alcala, had been promoting adlai as a cheaper and a healthier alternative to rice and corn. Mr. Alcala has been replaced by the Duterte administration’s appointee, Manny Piñol, in June 2016 and there has since been no news reports if the promotion of adlai is being picked up by the new administration.
I hope that Secretary Piñol does continue the promotion of adlai. Otherwise, the low supply and growing demand will keep the price up. And that would be too bad because adlai has so much to offer. Like rice, adlai grains can be ground to make flour to make cakes, cookies and crackers. Like Japanese rice, adlai grains are creamy which makes it ideal for making sushi and risotto.
It can also be made into breakfast cereal and wine. In fact, in Zamboanga de Sur where locals have been consuming adlai for a long time, they make vinegar and the native wine called pangasi from adlai grains.
But, perhaps, the most significant thing about adlai is that it has more health benefits than rice. In folk medicine, it is used for headaches, fever, inflammation and arthritis. For the modern generation suffering from “lifestyle diseases”, adlai is gluten free and has a low glycemic index which makes it a good choice for gluten-intolerant people and those suffering from diabetes.
The question, of course, is whether adlai tastes good enough to be a real alternative to rice. I’ve described the texture of cooked adlai earlier—it’s more like pasta cooked al dente than rice. There is a subtle chewiness in the grains. It is also more filling than most white rice varieties. If you’re used to eating a cup of rice every meal, half a cup of boiled adlai will make you feel just as full.
A Simple Adlai Salad
Rinse the adlai. Pour into the rice cooker and add two cups of water. Turn on the cooker and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Adlai takes longer to cook than rice. Give the grains 30 to 40 minutes to absorb the water.
Using a fork, fluff up the cooked adlai and transfer to a bowl. Pour in the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Toss lightly but thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. How much depends on your taste.
Top the simple adlai salad with fried shallots, fried garlic and sliced scallions. Serve immediately. We had our adlai salad with Alex's cauliflower casserole.
If you’d like to try adlai, you may buy it online from Hineleban Store. Quite pricey at PHP250.00 per kilo but, if Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol picks up the adlai program of his predecessor and adlai farming goes mainstream, the price just might go down to levels more fiendly to the not-so-affluent but who want to enjoy the health benefits of eating adlai too.