(STAR) EAT’S EASY By Ernest Reynoso Gala T- It is beautiful when it grows, precision rows of sparkling green stalks shooting up to reach the hot summer sun. It is beautiful when harvested, autumn gold sheaves piled on diked, patchwork paddies. It is beautiful when, once threshed, it enters granary bins like a (flood) of tiny seed-pearls. It is beautiful when cooked by a practiced hand, pure white and sweetly fragrant. — Shizuo Tsuji

Rice has been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years and more than half of the world’s population eat it three times a day. The type that we eat is white or polished rice, where the bran is removed to give a creamy color. Regular milled white rice has had the inedible outer hull and the inner coating of bran taken out and there are many varieties consisting of short, medium or long grain. When cooked, the long grain tends to separate into fluffy pieces and this is used for Chinese fried rice while the short or medium grain has a higher starch content and is stickier like the Bomba used for paella in Spain or the Arborio for risotto in Italy. Most Asian countries pre-soak their rice in water to make it expand, though fresh harvest requires less liquid, compared to rice stored for long periods of time. Some types of whole grain are steamed in pressure before they are milled to retain the vitamins and minerals, This is called converted rice. If only the hull and some bran are removed, you have brown rice, which is darker in color, high in nutritional value, but takes longer to cook. Wild rice, which is not really rice but seeds of grass that grow in the Great Lakes region of the United States, is very expensive because this wild crop is handpicked and limited in number.

Due to the increasing prices in the world market, there are ways to better utilize rice in your home. One way is to make congee or arroz caldo or Spanish-style rice soup, where one cup of uncooked rice when cooked will yield 10 cups. Adding water to cook congee and letting it continue to boil will also increase the volume of your rice, feeding everyone and reducing the amount of rice consumed. Different toppings are added to give variety to the congee, and adding egg gives an extra flavor. For arroz caldo, chicken should be browned well to make it last longer and the combination of glutinous and C4 dinorado allows the rice to have a not-so-mushy texture.

Olivia Tee’s Chinese Congee (also ideal for cart business)

A. 1 cup washed rice-calrose or C4 dinorado. Put in a rice cooker with 10 cups water and cook for one hour. Add 1-1/2 tbsps. rock salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper.

B. Meatball topping: Mix well in a bowl: 1 cup Monterey ground pork or chicken giniling, 1/4 cup each soaked, drained, and then chopped Chinese/shiitake mushrooms, chopped spring onions, chopped carrots, soy sauce, and cornstarch. Add in one whole egg, 1 tbsp. each of rice wine and sesame oil. Form into one-inch balls and drop in eight cups boiling water until balls float. Retrieve with slotted strainer. Do not throw boiling water.

C. 4 pieces cubed tokwa (firm tofu), 250 grams fish or squid balls, 20 pieces siomai or wonton wrappers cut into 1-inch pieces.

Heat 4 cups oil until very hot. Fry tokwa, remove from oil; then fish or squid balls, remove; then siomai wrappers. Drain on paper napkins.

D. 4 century eggs — peeled, cut into 6 wedges each. Prepare 5 whole eggs.

E. Seasoning sauce: 1 tbsp. thinly sliced ginger, 1/2 cup sliced violet onions (shallots), 5 leaves Chinese pechay (shredded); 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2 tbsps. each of sugar, Chinese rice wine, sesame oil, 1/4 cup chopped spring onions.

In the 1/4 cup oil where you fried the tokwa, brown the ginger and violet onions. Toss in pechay and other ingredients (except the spring onions, which you will use for topping). Let boil.

F. To serve, prepare 5 big bowls, add 2 cups cooked rice. Top with meatballs, 1 raw egg if desired, some century eggs, seasoning sauce (letter E), wonton bits, tokwa, spring onions.

G. For the fish or squid balls: Follow A (you have to cook another set of 1 cup rice with 10 cups water). Top with remaining tokwa, fried wonton wrapper bits, century eggs, seasoning sauce, spring onions.

Tip: Congee will continue to expand and thicken. Add water from where you cooked the meatballs and boil in the rice cooker.

Ninang Gloria’s Chicken Arroz Caldo (Chicken rice soup)

1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup crushed garlic, 2 Tbsps. thinly sliced ginger, 1 Tbsp. kasubha (supermarkets’ spice and vegetable sections), 1/2 cup thinly sliced violet onions (shallots), 1 kilo Magnolia chicken parts (adobo cut), 1/4 kilo chicken liver, 1/4 cup patis(fish sauce), 4 chicken cubes, 1-1/2 tsps. black pepper, 1 cup C-4 dinorado rice (washed), 1 cup washed malagkit rice (glutinous rice) 16 cups water (1 gallon), 1/2 cup chopped spring onions for topping), 8 pieces calamansi for serving.

In a deep soup casserole, add oil and garlic. Set aside garlic when brown to be used for topping. Add chicken liver and stir until half-cooked. Set aside on a plate. Add ginger, kasubha (Philippine saffron), onions, and brown well. Add chicken to brown well (so caldo will not spoil easily). Season with patis, chicken cubes, pepper. Stir in rice and cook 2 minutes. Add water. Let boil, cover, then simmer over low fire 45 minutes. Add liver, cook 2 minutes more.

To serve: Prepare 8 bowls for the caldo. Top with spring onions and crispy garlic.

Tip: To cook regular rice at home, use a rice cooker and follow directions. If unavailable, put the rice in a pot, press your middle finger in the center, and put enough water until the level reaches the second line of your middle finger. Cook over medium heat and stir once in a while.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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