People have been eating from bowls since the dawn of civilization, long before “bowl food,” and there is no denying the age-old pleasure of it. It is a comforting way to dine.
A bowl of rice with vegetables makes a nutritious, delicious meal, especially if the rice is whole grain. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a bowl of white rice. There are dozens of interesting, delicate varieties of rice that are milled, or polished, to make them white; Carolina, basmati, jasmine, arborio and sushi rice are all examples.
But in the milling process, the bran and germ, which provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, are removed from each rice kernel. It follows that whole-grain rice is more nutritious. It is also far more flavorful, with a depth that some describe as “nutty.”
Just as there are many types of white rice, there are many types of whole-grain rice, in many colors, from golden amber to rusty red to purplish black.
This recipe calls for Thai black sticky rice (also called sweet or glutinous rice), which I happen to adore. In Thailand, black sticky rice is most often used to make a sweet rice pudding with coconut milk, but I find it tastes very good with savory ingredients. I also love the dramatic visual contrast of the deep dark-colored rice and cooked vegetables, particularly greens.
If sticky rice is not your thing, you could use Chinese black “forbidden rice,” or any other whole-grain rice.Whole-grain rice can easily be cooked on the stovetop by the absorption method or in a rice cooker, and usually takes 30 to 40 minutes. Soaking the rice in cold water for an hour (or several) speeds the process somewhat.
Though some say a cup of raw rice feeds four people, I never think so. I always cook two cups to be sure, and hope to have leftovers for fried rice the next day. (I recently discovered that day-old sticky black rice, pan-fried in a little oil until crispy, is unbelievably good.)
Asian greens — bok choy, gai lan, choy sum, flowering mustard, pea shoots and water spinach, among many others — are mouthwatering, wonderful and easy to cook. I could eat stir-fried greens every day and never tire of them.
Here, I paired the greens with shiitake mushrooms for a vegetarian main course rice bowl that is full of goodness and long on flavor, kissed with ginger, garlic and sesame.
Black Rice Bowl With Bok Choy and Mushroom
Total time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
2 cups black glutinous (sticky) rice, or other whole-grain rice (soaked in cold water for 1 hour, if possible)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced (about 3 cups)
3 dried red Chinese peppers or 3 dried chiles de árbol
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Pinch of sugar (optional)
2 pounds bok choy or other sturdy Asian greens, such as gai lan or mizuna, leaves cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces, ribs cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1. Cook the rice: Rinse rice well and drain. Put rice in a 2-quart saucepan and cover with 3 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat to low. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 15 minutes, to continue steaming off heat.
2. As rice rests, cook the mushrooms: Put 1 tablespoon oil in a wide wok or heavy, deep-sided skillet, and place over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and stir-fry for about 1 minute, letting mushrooms brown a bit. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside.
3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. When oil is hot, add peppers, ginger and garlic, and let them sizzle for 30 seconds or so, without browning. Add soy sauce, sugar (if using) and 1/2 cup water and turn heat to high.
4. Add greens and stir-fry, mixing well and allowing greens to wilt. The greens should be done in about 2 minutes, but still firm and bright. Add reserved mushrooms and toss to incorporate. Drizzle with sesame oil and turn off heat.
5. Mound a cup of rice in each serving bowl. Surround rice with the greens mixture and sprinkle with scallions.