Rice, rice! Fluffy, sticky or baked.

I can’t stop eating rice.

I don’t know what has gotten into me but I just can’t stop eating rice for breakfast, for lunch, for everything. Rice, rice, rice. I don’t have many sorts in my pantry so it’s either basmati or arborio, or some no name cheap mushy-when-cooked rice, but rice it is. Mostly with kimchi. I can’t seem to stop eating that too! Unlike with rice, after a week of eating kimchi I get fed up for another few days, but rice is cooking on my stove every day.

What sorts of rice you use and would recommend? How do you like your rice? I would be glad to hear from you!

I like my rice with green peas and carrots. I like it with sauteed cabbage. But almost always that bowl gets quickly awaken with few drops of soy sauce or, more likely, tabasco sauce, sumak, hot tomato sauce or – kimchi again.

That wouldn’t be no wonder if I were Asian or Indian. But I’m not. While I was growing up, rice was something to fill stews with, instead of potatoes or bread. Sometimes someone would come up with rice pudding enriched with fruit syrup or jam. But rice itself was never cherished or given much thought whatsoever. Let alone what sort was used. Mainly cheap one, whatever that brought. On my mother’s table rice was never enjoyed by itself, cherished by itself, or given a main role.

I’m not bearing any grudges or resentment, no. It was just the way of cooking.

Later on, when I began my own cooking, I would recreate my grandma’s dishes more often than my moms. Mom was cooking rich, fulfilling meat and tons-of-potato meals, with lots of oil and not much spices rather than salt and something called Vegeta, which I guess every house in Croatia has a jar of. It’s made of dried vegetables and herbs and then milled to pretty salty mix that was added to pretty much everything, giving it a recognizable taste and yellow colour. So I cannot say I learned about spices either.

I’m not resenting that too, so you don’t think I’m arraigning my moms cooking. It was like that, it still is, I liked it, I ate it, she made it always fresh and in time and I cherrish that.

But in my solitary years I would rather cook from my grandma’s menu. She was, what I see now, strange woman back then, in her environment, among majoritie’s mentality. When her and grandpa were around 50, they moved to a distant house in the fields, near the river. No running water, no electricity. They had chicken, goats and bees. They had their own vegetables. Grandpa would fish their lunch in the river more often than not.

Grandma had her own little herb garden with strange plants and flowers, unlike to any of those in nearby village. Peanuts, for example. She cooked strange meals on her wooden burning stowe and served them under a tree. Grandpa built bread oven in the backyard, out of soil, mud and dry straw. He built a windmill, hoping it will bring them electricity. Well, that bread oven was not good. And windmill never turned it’s wings because there was no wind.

But that’s not the point. Point is, they were always into something, those two. They always had some projects on their hands. They were always busy trying something new, something that wouldn’t come to anyone’s mind in nearby village for the next 30 years. And yet, it came to theirs.

Some people mocked them, secretly or in their faces. Some tried to „reason“ with them. Some pretended to be interested while thinking Godknowswhat for themselves. And every one of them my grandpa and grandma greeted kindly and with a honest smile, offered them the best of the best they had to offer and people were just leaving disarmed with this kind, crazy old couple.

I was cooking and still am, by my grandma’s menu, because more often than not I felt strange. I don’t know whether my grandma felt strange in comparison to others. I like to think that she didn’t, because I remember her being too busy to deal with what other did or thought in the first place. I like to think that because it would hurt me to know that she felt sad and strange in comparison to others, so I rather think she was happy as she was. I’m pretty sure she was as happy as she was. Because it’s not about the windmill. Or things that did or did not work. It’s all about the process. That’s the recipe to fulfilled life, or so I think.

So here we are in a bowl of rice again. There’s something that my mom would never do but my grandma always did. After she would cook a soup, she would take the vegetables out, mashed them a little with a fork and then gently folded it into a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice. The rice was fluffy, every grain graceously separated, never sticky.  Then she would sprinkle it with a few drops of homemade apple vinegar and served it after a soup like a side dish or even main. Vinegar did make me frown because I never met it differently rather than in a salad dressing with much oil and salt. But I liked that little steaming white bowls with blue flowers imprinted on them and diligently ate it.

So now I know my grandma cherrished rice and enjoyed the blessings of those little angel grains.

Other reason why I’m cooking like my grandma is not as nearly profound as you would think. She was and indeed was resourceful woman. Because she was poor. Poverty is very invigorating in terms of, let’s make something out of nothing and yet don’t feel nothing but really something. Good. Not like my grandma’s, but fair share of that kind of resourcefullness also met me.

So I cooked grandmas rice. Further more, not one rice, but many rices. With vegetables, plain, in risotos, with stews, baked in an oven.

Today I’ll show you my rice. Grandma’s rice. Even my mom’s. We eat it all the time.

These are really recipes that aren’t quite exact recipes as you would expect. Both my mom and grandma would eyeball it or measure with their own cups according to their needs. When it comes to grandma’s Plain rice, sadly I don’t remember her exact way of cooking but only the taste. So I must be fair and say that I perfected it after learning from Chef Harpal Singh, and it’s the closest to my grandma’s rice I could find.  That’s why I’ll give Harpal’s measurements. Also, my grandma wouldn’t presoak rice but I find it really helpfull. She would use whatever rice she had but this way works the best with basmati.
The wisdom of making Kimchi came to me from Maangchi. I have posted about Kimchi on my Croatian blog but if you want me, I’ll post it here soon.

Plain basmati rice
from Chef Harpal Singh
serves 4

2 c basmati rice
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp white or apple vinegar
water, plenty of water for cooking

Wash rice thoroughly till the starch stops making water whiteish. Drain it then soak in water for 15 minutes. In the large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and the vinegar. Put the rice into the water and cook the rice for 8 – 10 mins. Be sure to stir. Drain the rice in the collander. If you overcooked it, spread it onto a tray and cool it that way. Serve immediately with anything your heart desires. I’ll put it next to some kimchi!

Next, my mom’s rice. It took me a real while to perfect this rice. It would burn, stick, get mushy, get crazy, get in the garbage bin. Point of this recipe is to have rice and water in 1:3 odds and then let the rice absorb the water on the slow heat. And be nice and not stick to the bottom of the saucepan and every grain separated from another but still be moist and tender. And NOT TO STIR during cooking?! Alas! That was the hardest part. So if you are timid with rice like me, go and stir a few times especially at the end of the cooking when rice likes to stick to the bottom. I do, my mom doesn’t. My rice sticks to the bottom, her doesn’t. Well, my bad, what can I say. Nonstick pans are lifesavers here but I don’t have them so… 😉

If you add grean peas, you’ll get yourself an Italian Risi e Bisi!

My mom’s rice
serves 4

1 cup arborio or sushi rice
1 tsp salt
2 – 3 tbsp oil (I like olive oil)
3 cups water
green peas, diced carrots, cellery, red lentils, sunflower seeds etc. to your desire (optional)

In a sauce pan heat few tbsp of oil, add rice and stir for a min or two till rice gets a bit whiter. Watch so it doesn’t burn, because if it burns, you can throw it away. Then add water, salt, stir a little more, lower the heat to the lowest possible, cover with a lid and let it be for 15 mins. Check after 10 mins, maybe it’ll need more time, maybe you’ll do some stirring. Just don’t stir to much or too harsh, or you’ll get rice all mushy and both you and rice won’t be happy. Try to fold it somehow, not stir in circles so you don’t break the grains. Once rice is done water should all be absorbed and grains should be nice and separable. Separable? I’m not sure that’s the best word but since English is not my first language, please bear with me 😉

If you want to add vegetables or seeds, add them at once with rice. If you want red lentils, wash them first thoroughly till the water is not white anymore. Also add 1/2 cup more water. Green lentils won’t do here because they need longer to cook. Sunflower seeds will add some nice crunchyness (another word that may not be proper but you get my point) to the rice and we love it!

Serve immediately with stews, sauces or however you like it. Mine is topped with a bit of grated fresh beet.

And last but not least, my Grandma’s baked rice. Now that was a rice I was making for ages before I found courage to make Mom’s. It could not fail: you could always check and add more liquid if needed. You could always bake it a little more to evaporate excess liquid and get beautiful crunchy top. You can make it with tomato sauce like me or without it. You can add pieces of vegetables if you fancy. Or not. And fancy the rice itself 🙂

Grandma’s baked rice

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350F. Take a cup to measure rice so you can measure water afterwards. Oil the baking pan as big as you want. Oil it on the bottom and the sides. Then, measuring the amount of rice, put enough to spread it on a baking pan, around 1 inch in height. So if you put 2 cups of rice, put 2 cups of water and 1 cup of tomato sauce. You don’t have to use tomato sauce, then just add more water. But it’s really good with tomato sauce! Or marinara, or what you have in hand. Add spices: salt, pepper, oregano or something like that and stir a bit, so it gets seasoned evenly. Bake for 15 mins and then check: if the grains are dry but still uncooked, go and add more liquid. If it’s done, then bake a little more to get the crunchy top. Serve with love to your loved ones and enjoy!

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