Sunday, August 09, 2009


The other evening at our Thursday Bible study, Doug, one of our members and host of the study, made a delicious dish with the retro name of Shrimp Diable, from a cookbook that looked to be from the 1960's: Shrimp sauteed in a brown sauce with brandy, shallots, chervil, parsley.

Doug requested rice. What kind to bring? Well, let's break them down:

1. Rice comes in many forms with three basic sizes: short grain, medium grain, long grain. Rice is also differentiated based on stickiness.

White rice has been processed to remove the bran, which gives brown rice its color. In an earlier time, the disease beriberi became widespread among people who began to eat white rice. It was discovered that the bran that was polished off contained much needed thiamin, and when brown rice was re-introduced, the disease was controlled.

2. In the 1980's, the late actor Jim Varney (Jed Clampett in the film version of the "Beverly Hillbillies") portrayed a character in commercials named Ernest P. Worrell ("Hey Vern...know whut ah mean?"). Based in Nashville, Varney did a string of commercials for a local Hawaii bank. One of them had Ernest telling his unseen pal Vern about the items at his casual luau. I remember reading a newspaper article which revealed that the script originally called for Ernest saying, "I've got your sticky rice," until the Mainland based director cut the word "sticky." The Hawaii representatives insisted that the word be restored, saying that "sticky rice is something we like."

Sticky rice is most often associated with short grain and most medium grain rice. Short grain rice is used to make sushi or Korean kimbab (kim is Korean style seaweed sheets like Japanese nori, bab is the Korean word for cooked rice - sal is the word for uncooked rice) because it has the right amount of stickiness to hold together the shapes the rice is molded into but it isn't so sticky as to distract from the other ingredients. Japanese and Korean cuisines tend to use stickier, shorter grain rice.

Sweet rice is the stickiest, usually short grain and is often made into Japanese mochi or Korean duk. The one exception is Thai sticky rice, which is long grain rice that is very sticky (and very prized).

3. Long grain rice tends to be less sticky, and in the case of Jasmine rice, can be highly aromatic. Chinese and Indochinese (Vietnamese, Thai, etc.) cuisines often use long grain rice.

Europeans and Americans tend to use long grain rice as well, so when Doug asked for rice, I made a pot of long grain rice.

4. One of the most unusual weddings I ever did was for a couple named Brian (who was Chinese) and Rika (who was Japanese). They actually wrote in their vows that each would love the other despite the fact that each ate the wrong kind of rice (long grain versus short grain).

Here in Hawaii, shorter grain, sticky rice dominates. I have found an interesting compromise: at New Mui Kwai Chop Suey Restaurant in Kailua, I always thought that the rice was different there than anywhere else (my daughters just gobble it up). I learned that they use a combination of short grain and long grain rice, perhaps to keep somewhat true to the Chinese standard, and yielding to the local Hawaii preference.

In my house, brown rice is mixed in with white rice, because I don't care for the taste and texture of brown rice (yes, I know it's good for you, but if God wanted human beings to eat bird seed, we would have been created to be birds). There is a new process that improves the taste and texture of brown rice, but I suspect that the nutritional value is stripped away just like white rice.

5. Jook, or Chinese rice porridge, is a great winter dish or breakfast meal. It's also terrific when you are feeling sick. Here's a super easy recipe (it's not fancy at all, but you can dress it up with cilantro, more ginger, peanuts, etc.). My kids love it.

To make jook, remember to use about ten times as much liquid as rice (must be short grain or medium grain white rice). I do about a 1 to 1 ratio of water to chicken broth. I usually empty the contents of a 46 ounce can of chicken broth and add about 8 cups of water (I prefer to use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven). Add a few slices of fresh ginger. Bring it to a boil and then add a cup and a half of rice. Lower heat and simmer until the consistency of porridge. Add shoyu to taste. My daughter and I prefer it plain, but you can add the ingredients mentioned above along with a drizzle of sesame oil.


Grace and aloha,


P. S. Japanese Theologian Masao Takenaka wrote a book called "God Is Rice." In it, he shares a poem by Korean poet Kim Chi Ha. It speaks eloquently to rice as a metaphor for God: heavenly, nourishing, and important for community:
Heaven is rice
As we cannot go to heaven alone
We should share rice with one another
As all share the light of the heavenly stars
We should share and eat rice together
Heaven is rice
When we eat and swallow rice
Heaven dwells in our body
Rice is heaven
Yes rice is the matter
We should all eat together

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