Rice is one of the fastest-growing staples in the world. You can find it in dishes from many cultures, particularly those from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, where it is a main food. Rice also is growing in popularity in the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America, and many in the U.S. likewise have embraced it.
There are several reasons why rice is so popular worldwide. The biggest is that it is rather inexpensive. You can purchase several pounds of rice for just a few dollars. Add in the high nutritional value and you have something very desirable:
- White, long-grain rice is a good source of energy, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folate and vitamin E, compared to maize, wheat and potatoes.
- Brown rice, which retains the bran layer that contains many vitamins and minerals as well as fiber because it has not been polished off, is rich in iron and zinc.
- The black and purple varieties are especially high in protein, fat and crude fiber. Those colorful versions, including red, get their color from anthoncyanin pigments, which are known to have free-radical-scavenging and antioxidant capacities, as well as other health benefits.
While wild rice, which is harvested in Minnesota lakes country, has always been my favorite, I’ve become a fan of both white and brown varieties in my cooking. (Wild rice is not as cheap as the other types of rice, but it is low in calories, fat and sodium and contains a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fiber.)
Recently, while looking at recipes, I came across one for paella, a Spanish rice dish originally from Valencia. It had been many years since I had thought about paella. My interest was initially piqued after sharing a meal of paella with my old friends, Dan and Billie Jo Rylance, courtesy of their foreign exchange student from Spain. Days later, I questioned a former co-worker, Elisa Rineheart, about paella.
Elisa, a native of the Canary Islands — an archipelago of the Kingdom of Spain consisting of seven islands just off the coast of west Africa — explained to me that paella was a centuries-old rice dish from Spain. She said she had been trying for years to get her Grandma’s delicious recipe from her dad, but with little success, and wondered if I had a recipe — and a pinch of saffron — to share.
“My grandma was famous for her paella,” Elisa told me. “She would cook it for the whole family, about 30 of us, at Christmas, over an all-wood fire.” The paella (“frying pan” in Valencian) consisted mostly of rice, seafood — shrimp, clams, scallops, lobster, etc. — and vegetables.
Weeks later, Elisa gave me a packet of honey-scented saffron (the world’s most expensive spice) that her dad, Jose Alejandro Llebri, had sent her to give to me. I used it in a recipe called Shrimp iPaella!, which was contained in a GQ magazine article (“May the Force Bewitch You”) by senior writer Andrew Corsello. The recipe was labeled “Guy Food” by Corsello, who fixed the it for actress Mira Sorvino, who he was interviewing for a cover story.
I shared some of the Shrimp iPaella! with Elisa, who gave it a ringing endorsement. She said that It might not have been as good as her Grandma’s, but would do in a pinch.
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
3 ounces dried chorizo
¾ cup arborio rice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric or saffron
Seafood Stock Concentrate or 1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoon mayonnaise
10 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces frozen peas
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Core bell pepper and slice thinly. Mince garlic and divide. Thinly slice chorizo.
Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and chorizo. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bell pepper is slightly softened and chorizo is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir rice, half the garlic, half the paprika and the turmeric or saffron into same pan; cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in 6 cups water, stock concentrates and salt.
Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and rice is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and a bit of remaining garlic to taste. Stir in water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until mixture reaches a drizzling consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
Rinse shrimp under cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Season all over with salt, pepper and remaining paprika. When rice is almost finished cooking, heat remaining olive oil in a second large pan over high heat. Once pan is hot, add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until opaque and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Once rice is finished, turn off heat and stir in peas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Top with shrimp and drizzle with garlic aioli. Serve directly from pan, family-style.
Note: This is the paella that is pictured.
6 tablespoons butter
½ onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pinch saffron
1 tablespoon bouillon
½ green pepper
½ red pepper
½ cup black olives, chopped
3 tablespoons capers
2 bay leaves
1½ pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled
4 teaspoons oregano
6 ounces stewed tomatoes
½ teaspoon sugar
2½ cups rice
4 cups water or broth
⅓ cup chopped parsley
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
1 ounce chipotle peppers, sliced
In large pan, saute onion and garlic in 4 tablespoons of the butter until onion is transparent. Add saffron, bouillon, peppers, olives, capers and bay leaves. In separate pan, saute shrimp in remaining butter and oregano until shrimp whiten. Drain, then add to first pan, along with stewed tomatoes and sugar. Stir. Cook rice in water or broth in large pot. When rice is 2 minutes from being done, dump in contents of saute pan, plus parsley, cilantro and chipotles. Stir. Let sit four an hour. Reheat and serve.