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Amazing International Rice Recipes

In last week's email I focused on risotto, the magical creamy Italian rice dish that has so many possibilities. After publishing my email, I got to thinking that there are so many great rice dishes from around the world. Here are some of my favorites:


No discussion about international rice dishes would be complete without Spanish paella. Paella began as a peasant meal cooked by field workers at their mid-day break.  They would cook rice, beans, vegetables, snails and an occasional rabbit in shallow dishes over outdoor fires. Today paella is well known all over the world. Traditional Spanish paella is generally simple, made with just a few ingredients.  Mixed paella with chicken, chorizo and several kinds of seafood are considered by Spaniards to be tourist paella.


Like risotto, paella is easier to make than most people think, but like risotto, there is a definite process for making paella. Once you understand the process, you can make a wide variety of paellas using whatever flavoring ingredients you have on hand. Read my article on Paella Method to learn how to make paella step-by-step as well as the tools and ingredients you will need. Or follow my recipes for Paella with Artichokes, Chorizo and Shrimp and Seafood Paella.

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I had never heard of maqluba until I spotted it in Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook. This layered vegetable, chicken and rice torte is a traditional Palestinian one-pot meal that means "upside-down." I think of this maqluba recipe as a savory pineapple upside down cake, but made with chicken, tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower and rice. Maqluba can also be made with lamb or beef, or the meat can be eliminated for a vegetarian dish.


A traditional maqluba requires that you fry all of the vegetables before you assemble them into a tort. I am not a huge fan of fried vegetables from either a health or a mess standpoint so I reconstructed a maqluba using roasted and braised vegetables. I also changed up the earthy spices typically used in a maqluba - turmeric, cinnamon, allspice and baharat and substituted za'atar, sumac and cumin instead, giving it a lighter, more citrusy flavor. My reconstructed maqluba was a success. The real lesson was that like risotto and paella, there is a process for making maqluba and once you understand the process, there are infinite variations to create. 

Fried Rice

Although fried rice is a Chinese dish, I grew up eating it in Hawaii. Everyone in Hawaii has a rice cooker that is used nearly every day. And there is usually leftover rice at the end of every meal. Fried rice is the way to repurpose leftover rice as well as other leftover ingredients. In fact, fried rice, like risotto, has infinite variations and is a great strategy for cleaning out the fridge.  


I learned to make fried rice from my sister, who learned to make it from her high school friend Pua, who learned to make it from his mother Keanuenue. Keanuenue was a wonderful water woman who taught me how to paddle canoes, but she also made a mean fried rice. You will never guess her fried rice secret, so you are just going to have to click on my recipe for Hawaiian Style Fried Rice to find out what it is. I promise you, it will take your fried rice up three or four notches!

Coconut Rice

Another delicious way to cook rice is in coconut milk. I worked on developing this recipe for quite a while before I figured out the best proportions of rice to coconut milk to water. Then I focused on really punching up the flavor with tons of garlic, fresh ginger, toasted coconut, green onions and cilantro. Finally, I toss in some fresh mango and pineapple. I named this recipe for a friend who loves this coconut rice. I make it for her whenever I visit her home at Puamana in West Maui. My Puamana Coconut Rice is an irresistible family favorite.

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Cauliflower Coconut Rice

If you are trying to reduce your carbs and increase your vegetables, cauliflower rice is a great way to achieve both without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction. In this recipe, I rework my Puamana Coconut Rice recipe using cauliflower instead of rice. 

Lebanese Cinnamon Chicken Rice

This recipe was sent to me by a reader as a healing dish that she makes for people who have just had a child or lost a loved one, explaining that in both situations people are often not able to cook for themselves. This traditional Lebanese dish includes a seemingly insane amount of cinnamon. Trust me, it is not a typo or error. The goal is to lightly season each grain of rice with cinnamon. It is no wonder that this is considered a healing dish as cinnamon is a potent anti-inflammatory ingredient. I add yellow raisins, garnish with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and almonds and serve it with labneh, a yogurt cheese.

Sticky Rice with Mango

Sticky Rice with Mango, or Khao Niew Ma-Muang, is my favorite Thai dessert. I like it so much I have been known to eat it for breakfast if we are lucky enough to have leftovers. Thai sticky rice is made with glutinous rice, also called sweet rice, and is not to be confused with sushi rice. This rice is not boiled. It is cooked in a special Thai steamer wrapped in a bit of cheese cloth. Alternatively, you can steam the rice in a Chinese basket steamer. This delicious dessert is not hard to make, but the rice does need to soak overnight, so a little advanced planning is required.

More International Rice Dishes

My above list of rice dishes only scratches the surface. There are wonderful Indian rice dishes including biryani, pilaf and pulao. Cuba is home to Cuban rice and beans and sweet arroz con leche. Japan has sushi and onigiri, or rice balls. Congee, a rice-based breakfast soup is served all over Asia and goes by a variety of names including jook and bubur. In New Orleans there is spicy jambalaya made with a sofrito, andouille sausage and a mixture of chicken and seafood. In the Southern U.S. there is Hoppin' John, a traditional New Year's dish made with rice, black-eyed peas, onion and bacon. In Persia the rice is cooked in two steps: First the rice is cooked in an abundance of water and then drained like pasta. Second, the drained rice is cooked in a pan with oil forming tahdig, a prized crunchy layer on the bottom of the pan. 


Rice is cooked in so many different and delicious ways around the world. Stay tuned for more rice dishes in Something New For Dinner's future.


What is your favorite rice dish?


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