Rice is Nice, but Quinoa is Better says Chef Dez

Thanks to “protein” and “low carb” diets, the awareness of carbohydrate levels is very prevalent in our society. However, starches are making their way back to our dinner tables. Besides pasta and potatoes, rice is always a favorite accompaniment on our plates, and there are many varieties available to us. Are they all so bad? Not really, but let’s look at our choices and compare them to Quinoa.

Ask any dietician and they will most likely tell you that our diets should include a balanced combination of almost all foods… all foods in moderation, that is. Moderation is the key, but when inquiring further, you will realize there is a preference for brown grains verses white. White rice grains are less nutritious because the milling process strips the grain of the bran. Normally when we consume nature made ingredients, they are always more nutritious the closer they are to their original natural state.

Brown rice has approximately the same number of calories and carbohydrates as white rice. The difference is brown rice has just the outer husk removed from the rice grain, whereas white rice has the husk and the bran removed. There are a couple of setbacks in return for the additional health benefits however – it takes twice as long to cook, and it spoils faster in the dry form as it still contains the essential oils of the rice germ.

If eating white rice is not a concern for you, then there are a number to choose from: Long grain, short grain, Basmati, Jasmine, etc. Out of all of these options, I normally choose Basmati for my busy lifestyle. It cooks the fastest – once the water comes to a boil, cover and simmer for ten to twelve minutes and then serve. It is very fragrant and the delicate grains are a compliment to many rice recipes.

Short grain rice is very popular with sushi making. It is mixed with a brine to aid in the binding qualities needed for shaping and to give it distinct sushi rice flavour. For my sushi rice, I dissolve one tablespoon of salt and one-quarter cup of sugar into one third of a cup of rice vinegar, over medium heat. This will make enough to season approximately 3 cups dry short-grain rice, cooked.

Wild Rice is a grain that is actually classified as a “grass”. When compared to cooked brown and white rice, it offers a lower calories, lower carbohydrates and higher protein. Wild rice is coarser when served on its own, and therefore is great mixed in combination with other rices.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), also known as Inca rice but is really a seed, not a grain. It comes from broadleaf plants originally native to the Inca people of South America. Quinoa is superior to other grains because it is a complete protein, containing a balanced set of essential amino acids. It offers similar protein and carbohydrate levels as wild rice, a similar calorie count as white or brown rice, but with a higher natural fat content and a nutty flavour. Quinoa can be cooked in the same manner as rice, or cooked without a lid, for more texture. We sauté the dry quinoa in olive oil and garlic before adding liquid, and then we stir occasionally, without a lid, until all the liquid is absorbed and evaporated. If you are tired of serving rice, this makes for a great alternative.

Dear Chef Dez:

When we are in a hurry, we cook instant rice. How come it can cook so quickly? Is it really rice?

Robert P.

South Calgary

Dear Robert:

Instant rice is white rice that has been cooked and dehydrated. This allows for faster preparation, but because of the extra processing it offers less nutritional value than raw white rice and is more expensive. For the times when you are in a hurry, I recommend going with Basmati rice, or cook extra rice if you know in advance you are going to be stretched for time.

Chef Dez is a Chef, Writer, & Host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com

Write to him at dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4