White rice is a staple of diets across the world, heralded for its cheapness and relatively blank flavor profile, which makes it easier to incorporate into a variety dishes. Indeed, a staple of Chinese cuisine for thousands of years, white rice is literally eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and in between!
Abundant and easy to prepare, true. But it might not be a food you want to be consuming in large quantities. White rice, you see, is a milled grain, meaning that the outer layer of grain has been removed – and along with it, almost all of the vital nutrients. And while certainly not so bad in moderation, if eaten to excess, white rice can slow your body down and cause heart and blood sugar problems.
So ditch the rice, at least some of the time, and switch in these five alternatives instead.
Cultivated for thousands of years, buckwheat is actually a seed, though it’s more commonly used as a grain today. With a nutty taste, it’s commonly made into noodles, flour and groats or even drunk as tea. Gluten free, it’s a perfect choice for anyone with wheat allergies or suffering from Celiac disease. Ranking low on the glycemic index, studies have also shown that high fiber buckwheat might help improve the blood sugar levels of diabetics.
To cook the stuff, start by soaking one cup of buckwheat in water overnight – this process works to soften it and speed up the cooking process. Rinse the grains in the morning, place them in a medium size pan and add two cups of water or milk. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is cooked off, but not completely gone. Incorporate cinnamon, fruits, nuts and your sweetener of choice for a nutrient rich oatmeal alternative. Buckwheat can also be used as a rice substitute; toasted, it’s known as kasha and is used as a filling in soups and casseroles, most commonly in Eastern Europe.
Native to North Africa, smaller than a pea, couscous is a small pasta made of durum wheat or barley. These little grain like balls boast an impressive amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals – selenium, for example, a trace mineral found in only a few food sources, but essential to your health; a single serving of couscous will give you up to 60% of your recommended daily amount. Preparation is easy and almost foolproof. Just add one cup of hot water or broth to one cup of couscous, fluffing with a fork. Toss with beets, spinach, and feta cheese and enjoy a colorful and nutrient rich side dish salad.
We know, we know, cauliflower is a vegetable. But with a little creativity, it makes for a great rice stand in. Packed with just 25 calories per 100g, cauliflower is a good source of vitamins and minerals and might be beneficial to heart and brain health. To turn it into a ‘grain’, use a food processor to pulse small chunks until the consistency is similar to rice. Chopping the cauliflower into really small pieces or using a cheese grater also works. For best results boil in a pan, microwave or roast in a little olive oil.
Cheap, filling, abundant – polenta, long regarded as peasant food in Italy, shouldn’t be overlooked. Made of finely ground cornmeal, polenta is traditionally eaten as a porridge, with meat, vegetables and a tomato sauce. Virtually fat free, cook polenta on the stove top, boiling with water, broth or even milk and use in place of rice or mashed potatoes. (You can also microwave or bake it.) Let leftover polenta ‘set’ in hand pressed patties then fry them up for a creative twist on eggs benedict or pancakes. For a filling and simple fall meal, top with roasted winter veggies and balsamic vinaigrette.
Legend has it that black rice, also known as forbidden rice, was once strictly for the consumption of Chinese royalty and the wealthy only. Unknown to many – unlike its relatives, white and brown – it packs the most nutritional punch of any rice. Containing the entire bran of the grain, having undergone very little refining, a ¼ cup contains 2 g of fiber, almost 5 g of protein and the highest number of antioxidants of any rice variety. Cook black rice much like you would brown rice, simply adding a little more water and adjusting cooking times accordingly. Looking for a creative twist on breakfast? Add non dairy milk to cooked black rice along with nuts, fruit and cinnamon.
Contributed by FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com), a popular online grocery store for safe, quality food in China. FIELDS stocks fresh and organic fruit and veg, imported and domestic meat and seafood, plus essential pantry items from home. Order before 5 pm in Shanghai and benefit from same day delivery with delivery free for orders over RMB 200. A new customer? Great – you’ll receive a free gift with your first order!