I’ve always been amazed at how the Italians have developed hundreds if not thousands of ways to serve their pasta just as the Chinese have countless recipes for noodles. Come to think of it, they have done pretty much the same with rice. The Italians have their risotto; the Chinese have integrated rice into their main dishes, sweets and snacks. I suppose it really boils down to getting the most out of one’s staple food. It’s wise to get creative and imaginative with the ingredient that is most abundant and most widely available.
We’ve assimilated the same attitude — rice is a Filipino staple since heaven knows when then we “inherited” rice traditions both from the Spaniards (close brethren of the Italians in Mediterranean cuisine) and the Chinese. However, I’ve always felt that the Filipinos’ creativity with rice is geared more toward making sweets and snacks. Suman, for instance, and its so many varieties. Then, there are the countless number of rice cakes including the bibingka and the puto bumbong that are inexorably intertwined with Christmas traditions.
And yet, when it comes to cooking rice for our main meals, well, it’s either plain boiled or steamed or, to refresh day-old rice, fried often with lots of garlic. Even rice cooked in bamboo tubes is still, essentially, plain steamed rice. Odd, really. Do we really prefer the neutrality of rice to better appreciate the flavorful savory dishes that are served with it?
Whatever the reason, I’m rarely comfortable with the status quo that, unless served as a sweet, rice is better left neutral to set off the savory dishes that go with it in main meals. So, I set on a journey into unfamiliar rice territory that started some three years ago when I was still writing for a newspaper and Perk up your rice was published in my food column. I have since probed the world of jambalaya, kedgeree, risottos, pilafs and rice salads.
I am still on that journey. Very much so. And now that I am learning so much about Latin American cooking, including Mexican cuisine, I am discovering so many more amazing ways to cook rice. Like this arroz amarillo — colored with annatto (atsuwete, achiote, achuete) oil and boiled in meat broth. So simple, so tasty and so darn pretty.
Recipe: Arroz amarillo (yellow rice)
- Heat the annatto / achiote oil in a pan.
- Add the garlic and onion and cook gently until slightly softened.
- Add the carrot cubes and peas.
- Add the rice. Stir to coat each grain of rice with the oil. Cook for a few minutes.
- Transfer the rice mixture to the rice cooker. Pour in the broth. Taste; add salt and pepper, as needed.
- Turn on the rice cooker and cook the rice, as usual.
- When the rice is done, leave for a few minutes in the cooker then fluff up the grains using a fork.
- Serve the rice hot. It is great by itself or with anything and everything — meat, vegetables, seafood.
Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4