The rice war

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout
It’s an ongoing joke between my dad and I that the hospital where I was born majorly messed up, accidentally giving me away to the wrong family. The first piece of evidence is me being gigantically taller than my smaller, petite family members (and not to mention other Malaysians in general). There’s also the fact that I do not look like either one of my parents, while my sister is an exact carbon copy of my mom. However in my dad’s eyes, the ultimate test of being an ‘Aziz’ – how much you enjoy rice and meat. And unfortunately for him, I’m a fan of neither. 

I have never really been a rice person, which is strange thing to say considering I am Asian and this is our holy staple to any meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do eat rice on occasion, but it is never my first choice for a carb fix. Maybe I find rice bland, but the same thing can be said for most other carbs. Furthermore, the beauty of rice is its ability to act as a blank canvas, heroing the flavours of its accompanying dishes. Oddly though, I can happily live without nasi lemak (Malaysia’s national dish of coconut rice and condiments), nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi briyani, nasi campur (mixed rice) and all the lauks in the universe, or the veggie fav banana leaf meal. But deny me of my noodles, pasta, or even (brown) bread and my world will start to fall apart! When I was living alone, a small 500g pack of rice would easily last me a full year. I was probably one of the very few Malaysians that refused to own a rice cooker – why waste limited London kitchen counter space/storage when you can cook rice on the hob with a normal pot!

Surprisingly in the last year I have developed a new appreciation for rice with the discovery of the brown and wild variety. Now many who are white rice purists will scoff at the notion of brown/wild rice as ‘hippy food’ that tastes like cardboard. However as someone who has never been hooked on white rice, I actually prefer the nutty, earthy, slightly smokey flavours and texture found in brown/wild rice. The alternative variety also has far more nutritional benefits than its white counterpart. White rice starts off brown and is processed/milled/polished to death to completely remove the bran/germ layer, reducing its original fiber and vitamin content. Brown rice on the other hand still retains its wholegrain status, since only the first outer layered is removed through milling, thus holding on to its vital nutrients. Another benefit is that brown rice has a much lower glycemic index to stabilise your blood glucose levels, keeping you fuller for longer (while reducing the risk of diabetes in the long term). Think this is great? Well wild rice is even better. Not technically rice (it is scientifically classified as aquatic type of grass), wild rice surpasses other grains in protein content, minerals, B vitamins, and folic acid. It has twice the protein content of brown rice (8 times the protein of white rice) while only containing 83 calories for 1/2 cup cooked!

I find that the chewy texture of brown/wild rice makes it more enjoyable when served cold, which is something that cannot be said about white rice. This makes it the perfect accompaniment to a salad, just like the dish below.  In London, I absolutely loved Biona’s Organic Wild Rice mix, where a single pack contained a combination of brown, wild, and red rice. Please, please, please will a supplier start distributing Biona products to Malaysia? I may just consider experimenting with a brown/wild rice nasi lemak and see if I can convert the nation. Move over Village Park Nasi Lemak!

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout

The Ingredients
Wild rice mix (I used the last of my Biona packet! Brown rice or multigrain rice can easily be found in Malaysia in the organic section of most supermarkets – you can buy the brown/multigrain/wild (or black) rice individually and combine this yourself.)
 broccoli, pan fried tofu, cherry tomatoes, mange tout, and almond flakes.

The Preparation:
1. Cook rice mix (1 cup of rice to 3 cups of water) until the black husks have split and rice is slightly al dente. Wild rice takes slightly longer to cook than regular. Like I said, I think rice can be easily be made without using a rice cooker. The trick is to cook it on the hob uncovered and when it looks 3/4 done, place the lid on to steam the rice and lower the heat.

2. Blanch broccoli and mange tout in boiling water.
3. Sautee almond flakes until this has slightly browned.
4. Mix rice, broccoli, mange tout, sliced tofu, halved cherry tomatoes, and almond flakes.
5. Serve with dressing of choice (I find that the sesame Japanese dressing is lovely with this).  

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A headstand a day…

Vietnamese prawn & dill soup
Keeps the doctor away. I don’t believe in falling sick. For the record, I don’t mean unfortunate (and cruel) medical illnesses that often strike without proper reason or purpose. I’m talking more about the niggling colds, flues, fevers and aches.

For a while now, I’ve shunned away from the idea of doctors or taking any form of medication (even paracetamol to sooth a sore head after a night out!). This is possibly a rebellious reaction to growing up in a family that believes Panadol is the miracle cure to everything (Me: ‘I think my heart is broken’ Parent: ‘Have a Panadol!’) After a bad experience of going through the winter flu several years ago by myself and regressing into shameful case of self pity à la Man Flu (the I-can’t-get out-of-bed-there-is-no-one-to-cook-for-me-my-life-is-miserable type whinging), I now try my best to prevent falling sick in the first place.

For the past year and a half, in addition to healthy eating, yoga has played a significant part in this. Apparently yoga practitioners are less likely to come down with the sniffles and on the rare case that they do, they have a much faster recovery rate. Yoga is known to regulate the immune system to keep it strong and healthy, allowing the body to withstand infections. Shirshasana (headstand) is possibly my favourite yoga pose – coming into it you really do see the world in a new light. Being upside down increases the amount of blood flowing to the head, creating a greater oxygen flow to the brain to reduce overall stress levels (a main contributor to the pesky cold/flues). Not wanting to jinx anything, I can safely say that I have not had a cold/flu or been on MC for the past year and a half.

So at any indication of feeling under the weather (like today’s annoying fever and ache), rather than pop a pill, I choose to go into headstand. Lots of water, sleep, and a bowl of Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup for dinner will also help. I love this recipe for when I feel the symptoms kicking in – its nourishing broth and abundance of veggies help revive the senses and remedy aches. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food, but I’ve tweaked this slightly to include more vegetables so that it becomes a nutritionally full-proof meal to kick the cold in the ass.  My  version includes broccoli since this nutrient-packed miracle food is known to help shield from illness/disease.

I really do believe that the right combination of foods, exercise, and a yoga class has more mileage than any guy in a white coat keen to write you off with a costly prescription of antibiotics for just about everything.

Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup

Basic Ingredients
Chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, prawns, dill, broccoli, fish balls (optional), 1 lime, quartered tomatoes, nampla, wild rice

The Prep
1. Heat chicken stock (can use chicken cube and water). Season.

2. Add in broccoli and cook until tender. Add oyster mushrooms, fish balls, grated lime peel, lime juice, splash of nampla, quartered tomatoes, chopped dill.
3. I add in the prawns last to avoid overcooking them.
4. Once soup starts boiling take off heat.
5. I usually serve this with some wild rice that I cook normally and just add this into the soup for a more satisfying meal. You can also use any type of noodles.