Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Créole Rice: French Exotic

‘Créole’ in French, similar to ‘criollo’ in Spanish, refers to the culture and the people of European or mixed European ancestry who were born in the new lands during the colonial period. Gradually, hybridized cultures developed, combining the influences of Europe with those of the new lands plus of other peoples arriving as immigrants. Riz á la créole, or creole rice, is the name given to numerous rice dishes in the Caribbean, Louisiana, and in the French-speaking islands in the Indian Ocean. These dishes combine rice with locally available ingredients and seasonings.

I've been teaching this particular rice dish in my 'French Exotic' cooking classes in Atlanta and Athens. The term French Exotic is my shorthand for the types of food I've encountered in French-speaking tropical countries where I have worked and travelled. Creole rice, with its subtle fragrance and delightful color and texture, goes well with many of the French-influenced tropical chicken and seafood dishes that I've had and taught. I'll include a couple of those dishes in future blog postings.

This recipe, with both white rice and brown rice versions, is easy to make. The brown rice variety, needless to say, takes longer to cook and absorbs more liquid. If you just want to try the tropical rice cooking, start with the white one, and use 'Basmati' or another extra long-grain rice. Basmati, a superior fluffy rice from India and Pakistan, is available in most supermarkets these days, as well as in natural food stores and Indian grocery shops. Basmati requires rinsing and draining, to get rid of the excess starch left from the milling.

The recipe serves six, with possible leftovers. (Leftover rice heats easily in the microwave.) What drinks would be suggested depend on the main course dish that is served with the rice.

Créole Rice Tim

3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/4 cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper
1-3/4 cups white long-grain rice or brown rice
1 coarsely chopped tomato
2-3/8 cups water for white rice or 3-1/2 cups water for brown rice
1-3/8 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large bay leaf, broken in half
Pinch of cayenne

If using white rice, rinse it well in a pan and drain off the wter. Let it dry (by absorbing the moisture) while doing the next stages. Brown rice usually does not need rinsing.

Prepare the vegetables and stack them in separate piles on a plate. Heat oil in a heavy cooking pot to medium high. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until limp. Add peppers and fry for one more minute. Add the rice, and stir and fry gently for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, water (quantity depends on which rice is used), and salt and seasonings. Stir once, and when the mixture comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat to the lowest possible.

For white rice, keep the pot covered, do not stir, and allow it to simmer over lowest heat for 20 minutes. Do not open the pot. For brown rice, simmer for 35 minutes, covered, fluffing gently with a fork once or twice during cooking. The water should have been absorbed and the rice should be reasonably tender. If still wet, simmer several minutes longer. After the cooking of either type of rice, turn off the heat, and allow the rice to sit, covered, for at least ten minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

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