I get the impression that every family has their 'token' foods: reliable meals and ingredients which regularly appear on the dinner table. This was most apparent when I started university; everyone cooked differently - different meals, different styles, different constants on their daily dinner plates. I lived in a very sociable accommodation block, with big kitchens where we would regularly enjoy cooking big meals together. Through these communal cooking sprees I became familiar with the unfamiliar: tried lots of Mexican-style food such as chilli and fajitas (which I had never tried before!), developed an intense love for noodles (which we never ever ever ate at home) and even braved some homemade soup (until very recently I didn't like soup much at all!!) and sweet potato. Similarly, I introduced people to my speciality homemade veggie burgers, offered wild ideas involving fish, and unveiled the wonders of cous cous to my new friends. The levels of cooking ability differed vastly, but the majority were learning for the first time in their first stint away from home, and through this I discovered the horror that is boil-in-the-bag rice, kindly provided in the going-away packages of many a concerned mother.
Rice was our family 'staple'; we kept a huge sack of basmati in the utility room (the kind designed for Indian restaurants), and this would play an integral role in a good majority of our meals. Brown rice was eaten almost as regularly as basmati, and occasionally we were treated to wild rices of varying colours and cooking times. When it comes to rice, I have all the patience in the world - boil-in-the-bag convenience is not an option; no wait is too long for perfect fluffy rice, and I often eat a rice-based dish three or four times in a week - I can't get enough! One rice dish that I have never really mastered is the risotto - we never ate it at home, incidentally, and I've never developed a great liking for general risotto meals (though the first meal I cooked for Daniel was Nigella's cheese and leek risotto, which went down a treat!).
A few weeks ago I cooked an adaptation of Sophie Dahl's brown rice risotto terrine (I added chickpeas, left out the mushrooms and didn't bother to make it into a terrine), which was tasty enough, but took forever to cook and ended up being a bit mushy and...not brown rice-y. So, as it is a little too warm for soup, this Sunday I lovingly tended to a new, improved version of my original, which was perfect! Fresh and light for summer, with a lovely nutty taste from the rice-chickpea-cumin combination - I could have eaten double the amount!
Chickpea Brown Rice Risotto, for one
75g brown basmati rice, washed
1 pint vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small tin chickpeas
1 carrot, grated
1/3 courgette (zuccini!), grated
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
pinch chilli flakes
1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard
small bunch fresh coriander
1. Fry onion and garlic until soft, then add the rice and bay leaf and stir. Add enough stock to cover the rice, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes (check that the pan isn't boiling dry - if it is, add more stock!)
2. After about 20 minutes most of the stock should be absorbed; add the chickpeas, cumin, chilli, mustard and enough stock to cover everthing, season and simmer gently for about 20 minutes (or until rice is tender but not soggy!).
3. When rice is just about done, add the carrot and courgette and a little more stock. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until rice is perfect!
4. Stir in coriander and serve!