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RotD 2 July 2014: Pea Black Rice Risotto

Continuing my personal crusade for healthy eating, I have been seeking to expand my everyday repertoire with dishes that take minimal effort but yield maximum  gastronomical and physiological enjoyment. Inspired by my best friend, who gifted me a copy of Charlotte Haigh’s The Top 100 Immunity Boosters, I sought to buy every book I could find in The Top 100 series, which is apparently devoted to healthful food. One of them is The Top 100 Fitness Foods, written by Sarah Owen:

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One of my favorite vegetables, the green pea, is featured in several of these titles, such as The Top 100 Health Tips (actually, it’s 100 health foods). It’s a nutrition rock star, featuring among others vitamins B-complex, C, K, beta-carotene, folic acid, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc (according to Ms. Owen). I like it particularly for one of The Honourable Nigella Lawson’s classics, the pea soup, which has been prominently featured twice on different shows (the first one, called slime soup, adding mozzarella cheese; and the second one, called pea and pesto soup, adding, well, pesto). It’s a more-than-satisfying on-the-go meal, as having two hearty bowls of just the soup alone can make me feel full already; to add carbohydrates, just eat it along with some bread, or add cooked potatoes into the soup after the blending. But I like eating it too as opposed to eating it in a blitzed-up form, and so I present to you my supper for the day and one of Ms. Owen’s recipes, the pea risotto.

Owing to the fact that risotto rice is hard to come by and expensive here, I was forced to use regular rice instead. Well, the rice for tonight’s meal isn’t that regular either: it’s black rice! It’s supposedly the healthiest of all rices in terms of antioxidants – it’s healthier than even brown rice – and provides a new twist in flavor to this otherwise boring (in terms of taste) staple. My brother was the one who first bought it; I tried it and enjoyed it, and have used it several times since.

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But because preparing brown or black rice takes so much longer owing to the need to soak it in water for a good half-hour first, the only alternative if I wanted to eat on time was to use either uncooked white rice (the recipe uses uncooked rice) or the previously-cooked black rice. To finish it up, I settled for the latter, and compromised with myself and the book that I would cook the dish for a shorter period of time instead, so as not to overcook the rice or peas.

Cooking this dish begins with heating oil in a pan and cooking an onion until it’s soft. I allowed myself to deviate from the notes here both ways. Ms. Owen prescribes olive oil, meaning regular olive oil. But because we don’t have regular olive oil at home, and because heating olive oil is actually bad for you because it becomes carcinogenic when it is too hot, I used what I feel will become my new gastronomic backbone, olive pomace oil. It’s cheaper than olive oil as it’s nearly a by-product of pressing the former and has a weaker taste, but is as healthy as it as they contain the same healthy fats. Furthermore, it supposedly has a high smoke point, so cooking with it shouldn’t pose a risk of cancer as much as regular or extra-virgin olive oil does. While it does come blended with extra-virgin olive oil, the latter is present only in a very small percentage.

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The second change I did is a favored technique of Nigella – in lieu of a white onion to be chopped up, I used spring onions, or scallions, which are my favorite to cook with as well. The scallions I used were already chopped up and just several days away from rotting, so I immediately rescued them… by cooking them. After cooking the scallions in the pomace oil, I then added a cup of peas as directed. Looking back, I realized I should have thawed the peas first before bunging them in, as it took some time to defrost and scatter some of the peas evenly.

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In another deviation from the book, I added my favorite herb, rosemary. I also prepared the other ingredients needed as well as my own additions.

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The next step was to pour in the milk and rice. At that point in time, I was conflicted whether or not to cook the whole thing bar the rice and just add it afterwards, or just cook the already-cooked rice further. I had already poured in the milk and some of the stock (read further) when I decided upon the latter, so after a little bit of panicking, the black rice dutifully went into the pan. It presented a very nice contrast in terms of color with the verdancy of the peas and even the dirty-white of the milk; it looked like an edible painting to me.

The recipe calls for vegetable stock. As we barely use carton-packed stock, and usually rely on boiling fresh stock, I used the only regular stock at home: chicken stock. Specifically, it’s native Filipino chicken stock, which is very flavorful, heartwarming, and healthy. I ladled this in gradually as directed, waiting for the rice and peas to absorb the milky soup mixture before adding more.

Because the rice was already cooked, I decided against cooking for the whole 20 minutes as directed. Furthermore, a risotto is not like fried rice in that it is dry; it is half-bathed in the stock it was cooked in upon serving. As such, after I tossed in the last ladle of stock, I stirred for only about five minutes before turning the heat off. The recipe says to add mint and Parmigiano (Parmesan) cheese on top at this point; since I don’t have the former and am saving up on the latter, I added neither. Furthermore, you will notice that there is one ingredient in the picture above that I haven’t mentioned yet: cajun powder. It’s one of my all-time favorite condiments; I love the gentle piquancy it provides with a light tickle to my tongue. It is this that I generously garnished the risotto with.

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As I had deviated from the recipe in so many ways, I was slightly anticipative on the taste. The moment I chewed the first spoonful, I knew my outside-of-the-box thinking had worked. The flavors all worked smoothly together – the surprisingly pleasant backbone of the rice, the rich but subtle lifeblood of the milky stock, the mushy prominence of the peas, and the hearty addition of the cajun. I can see myself making this again.

Since risotto is traditionally not the main course of the meal and is thus served in a small portion, I doubled the amount of ingredients needed; ergo, I cooked intending to serve two portions. Had I had another viand or dish for tonight, I would have made only one portion; but to simplify things, and out of habit, I made just this one dish.

If you’ll also notice, I made the risotto using one of our Happy Call pans. Since cooking with the pan closed and cooking with the pan open requires, based on experience, differing amounts of liquid, and the recipe assumed the pan was open, I did not close the pan the whole time (and anyway, I was busy stirring), except once briefly at the end when I shook it to help ensure the risotto cooked and was coated with the stock evenly. Since I plan to use Happy Call again in cooking it, I intend to cook the recipe as I did tonight, but reducing the amount of milk and stock used, as well as the cooking time, all by up to half. I don’t expect to get it right the first time (e.g. it might be too dry or too wet), but a little more experimentation and we’ll be there.

Pea Black Rice Risotto

Serves 1 as a main course

Ingredients:
(½ tbsp.) olive pomace oil
(1-2) scallions, finely chopped
(1 tsp.) rosemary or (½ tsp.) dried rosemary
(1 cup) frozen peas, thawed
(¾ cup) black rice, uncooked, or (1½ cups) cooked
(½ cup) milk
(1½ cups) chicken stock, or any stock you prefer
cajun powder, to taste

Procedure:
1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and cook the spring onion for about 1 minute, stirring.
2. Add the peas and rosemary, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
3. Stir in the rice and milk, then gradually ladle in the stock.
4. Cook for 20 minutes (uncooked rice) or 5-8 (cooked rice), then serve. Garnish with cajun powder or other condiments as preferred.

If you're using a Happy Call pan, you could reduce the amounts of liquid, then close the pan after ladling in the stock and cut your cooking time in half.

Derived from the original Pea Risotto recipe.
From The Top 100 Fitness Foods by Sarah Owen (2009).
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