[Sca-cooks] White Rice

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 8 19:06:06 PDT 2008

Re Stefan's recent query:

I always assumed that the rice eaten by the gourmets in the Middle 
East was white rice. Somehow tough brown rice seemed completely 
incompatible with that otherwise refined cuisine.

Just the other night, i came across recipes and poems in ibn Sayyar 
al-Warraq's compendium of 9th and 10th C. recipes (Nawal Nasrallah's 
translation) that clearly specify white rice.

p. 263:
In a poem on the dish Aruzziya by Ibrahim bin al-Mahdi, by the 
recipe's creator:
"Aruzza with milk of any blemishes free.
Made simple with one kind of grain, drowned in fat [sheep tail fat 
and olive oil in the recipe]
How marvelous is the meat in it, with fat almost as much as the meat.
The meat slices like fresh dates, moist and tender. How pretty in the 
huge bowl it looks.
A closer regard will make you think it is the full moon but blemish-free."

The ingredients are:
lean rump meat thinly sliced and smoked, sheep tail fat, olive oil, 
salt, and water (avoid murri as it will discolor the dish).
And milk, galangal, cinnamon, and rice
The meat is prepared separately from the rice and milk. It's not 
entirely clear if they are mixed before serving, or if the meat 
garnishes the rice...

p. 385:
A recipe for faludthaj made with rice
"Choose Levantine rice or Yemenite. These are the best and whitest 
rice varieties available..."
(the recipe is an entire modern page long, so i won't include it)

I recall some other poems in the book that indicate how white a rice 
dish is, but can't find them at the moment

On the other hand, on p. 446, in chapter 108 - Making Grain Stews for 
the Sick - the first two recipes call for toasted brown rice.

In fact, in her Glossary, Nasrallah says, p. 557:
"Husked white rice is the variety generally used. Unhusked rice is 
called...'red rice'."

I wonder if even this "coarser" rice was really like our modern brown 
rice.  I ate red rice in Indonesia - it had been husked, and 
apparently partially polished, but not fully polished. The outer 
layer was a deep rich warm red-brown, kind of brick-red. When it was 
cooked the outer "skin", split open and the originally white inner 
part became pink. Not only was it really pretty, but it tasted 
wonderful, too, like rice with an almost nutty flavor. I'm sorry it's 
so expensive here, or i'd eat it more often because it tastes 

This is probably what i ate in Indonesia

This is now sold in US markets

This is a type of sticky red rice

I also ate black rice in Indonesia - i have to laugh when i see it 
sold so expensively in the US as "Forbidden Rice", which is a crock 
of horsepucky and a load of manur... marketing hype. I know of two 
kinds of black rice. The kind i had in Indonesia is a medium grain 
that is husked but not polished, that cooks up more or less like 
regular rice, except that the black-purple skin splits open during 
cooking and the normally white inner part becomes a lovely lavender. 
I don't quite recall the flavor because it was used for kolak, a 
sweet snack food, and cooked with plenty of rich coconut milk, yummy 
palm sugar, thick slices of fresh ginger. The other kind is black 
sticky rice, which is used in parts of mainland Southeast Asia for 
sweets. There certainly is nothing "forbidden" about it anywhere in 
Southeast Asia.
These two entries are pretty much for the same rice. The second had a 
couple good photos and includes info on both kinds of black rice.


Next, i've read in several books on Ottoman cuisine that certain 
European scholars think that rice did not reach the Middle East until 
brought by the Mongols, when they invaded in the mid-13th C. Clearly 
those scholars don't read cookbooks! Not only is rice called for in 
the early 13th C. cookbook of al-Baghdadi, written several decades 
before the invasions, but in the mid-13th C. Andalusian cookbook - 
and rice production couldn't have gotten there in just a decade or 
two. In fact, as is clear, rice is called for in 'Abbasid 9th and 
10th century recipes, for 3 and 4 centuries prior to the Mongol 
invasion, as it is called for in 32 recipes.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s when i was a vegetarian (and for a 
short time even macrobiotic, because of some house mates), i was at 
times compelled to eat brown rice, which i considered truly 
unpleasant. Compelled only some of the time, because it was served in 
some restaurants i frequented, and by friends. I did cook it myself 
for a some months, but never liked it and switched to various kinds 
of white rice.

Many cuisines that feature rice are cooked in such a way as to create 
a fair amount of sauce. The dishes are meant to be served on or next 
to white rice, which will absorb most of the liquid and made the 
whole thing easier to eat. Brown rice, in my experience, doesn't soak 
up the sauce and just sits there, while the delicious liquids pool 
beneath it.

Current methods of processing brown rice make it more palatable (and 
cook faster), and i eat it when i'm in a "healthy" restaurant that 
serves nothing but. However it's still not on my list of things to 
buy for home. I'll get my fiber and my B-vitamins in other foods.
the person sometimes known as Urtatim
(that's err-tah-TEEM)

My LibraryThing

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