Advice from a magical kitchen to yours—
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Dear Kitchen Witch,
A friend who is moving gave me a huge bag of basmati rice she didn’t want to take with her. I don’t cook rice that much at home—really just as a very occasional side dish—and am a little flummoxed at what to do with all this rice. Help!
—Is Rice Nice?
Dear Is Rice Nice,
The great news here is that rice keeps very well! So you have plenty of time to use it. Actually, there’s a lot of good news: basmati rice is aromatic and delicate, as well, and lends itself to various preparations. I think if you get a little creative you’ll find lots of ways to use it in dishes beyond a basic white-rice side. Speaking of which, there’s no need to leave your side dishes plain: adding mint or a combination of yogurt and spices in curd rice makes for a much more interesting plate.
One thing to know about basmati rice going in is that it has a long grain and a light texture; you want, in general, to keep those grains fluffy and separate. Basmati is the traditional rice of Indian cuisines and the best ones I’ve had are imported from India, though this variety of rice is now grown domestically in the U.S. as well. To my palate, the domestic ones tend to be a little heavier and shorter-grained and to lack some of the fragrant quality of the imports. They’re still perfectly pleasant rice, but not as distinctive.
A great way to use basmati rice as the base for a meal is biryani. There are regional variations from throughout India—the one linked above is a celebration dish from Kolkata, usually made for Eid—using different spice blends and meats, as well as vegetarian versions.
Mujaddara, a Middle Eastern dish, combines basmati with lentils for an inexpensive, excellent one-pot meal that’s also vegetarian.
I also love a rice salad, especially at this time of year when it’s hot. You can make one with the elements of Niçoise or any favorite pasta salad, or let you imagination go. Other main dishes can also feature rice: my grandma used to make a cheese and rice souffle (cheese sauce, egg whites, rice) that is definitely old-fashioned comfort food but can be quite a nice dinner with a sharp green salad. Chicken and rice is a great one-pot meal.
Basmati rice can also make a nice base for desserts such as rice pudding or for breakfasts. I love a savory fried-rice breakfast, but a lightly sweetened coconut rice pudding, say, can be a great start to the day.
I hope these ideas give you some direction on what to do with your basmati bounty, but I do want to put in another plug: if you find yourself in possession of a big unopened package of good-quality food that just isn’t something you eat, consider the food bank instead of struggling to eat it up yourself. There’s always going to be a need out there for shelf-stable, sealed food, and something like rice can feed a lot more people than the random expired can of olives that often show up in food drives. That’s not to say you shouldn’t keep your big bag of rice and use it to feed yourself! But if figuring out what to do with it or any big amount of nonperishable food feels like a terrible chore, there’s also no shame—quite the opposite, in fact—in rehoming it.