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High drama in a bowl

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A black rice bowl with bok choy and mushrooms. This vegetarian bowl, packed with glutinous black rice, earthy mushrooms and wilted greens, is hearty enough for a main.

People have been eating from bowls since the dawn of civilization, long before “bowl food,” and there is no denying the age-old pleasure of it. It is a comforting way to dine.

A bowl of rice with vegetables makes a nutritious, delicious meal, especially if the rice is whole grain. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a bowl of white rice. Dozens of interesting, delicate varieties of rice are milled, or polished, to make them white; Carolina, basmati, jasmine, arborio and sushi rice are all examples.

But in the milling process, the bran and germ, which provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, are removed from each kernel. It follows that whole-grain rice is more nutritious. It is also far more flavorful, with a depth that some describe as “nutty.”

Just as there are many types of white rice, there are many types of whole-grain rice, in many colors, from golden amber to rusty red to purplish black.

This recipe calls for Thai black sticky rice (also called sweet or glutinous rice), which I happen to adore. In Thailand, this rice is most often used to make a sweet rice pudding with coconut milk, but I find it tastes very good with savory ingredients. I also love the dramatic visual contrast of the deep dark-colored rice and cooked vegetables, particularly greens.

If sticky rice is not your thing, you could use Chinese black “forbidden rice,” or any other whole-grain rice. Whole-grain rice can be cooked in a rice cooker or on the stovetop, and usually takes 30 to 40 minutes. Soaking the rice in cold water for an hour (or several) speeds the process somewhat.

Asian greens — bok choy, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choy sum, pea shoots and ung choy (water spinach), among many others — are mouthwatering, wonderful and easy to cook. I could eat stir-fried greens every day and never tire of them.

Here, I paired the greens with shiitake mushrooms for a vegetarian main course that is full of goodness and long on flavor, kissed with ginger, garlic and sesame.

Tip: The absorption method is an easy way to cook rice on the stove: Simmer rice in water 30 minutes, then turn off heat and let rice sit and steam for 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. This way you won’t risk burning the bottom of the rice.

BLACK RICE BOWL WITH BOK CHOY AND MUSHROOMS

By David Tanis

  • 2 cups black glutinous (sticky) rice, or other whole-grain rice (soaked in cold water 1 hour)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3 dried red Chinese peppers or 3 dried chilies de arbol
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu
  • Pinch sugar (optional)
  • 2 pounds bok choy or other sturdy Asian greens, such as gai lan or mizuna, leaves cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces, ribs cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

>> To cook rice: Rinse rice well and drain. Put in a 2-quart saucepan and cover with 3-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat to low. Cover and cook 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit, covered, 15 minutes, to continue steaming off heat.

As rice rests, cook the mushrooms: Put 1 tablespoon oil in a wide wok or heavy, deep-sided skillet, and place over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and stir-fry about 1 minute, letting mushrooms brown a bit. Remove mushrooms from pan; set aside.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. When oil is hot, add peppers, ginger and garlic, and let them sizzle for 30 seconds or so, without browning. Add shoyu, sugar (if using) and 1/2 cup water and turn heat to high.

Add greens and stir-fry, mixing well and allowing greens to wilt, about 2 minutes; they should still be firm and bright. Add reserved mushrooms and toss to incorporate. Drizzle with sesame oil and turn off heat.

Mound a cup of rice in each serving bowl. Surround rice with mushroom and greens mixture; sprinkle with scallions. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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