"Rice is a staple for nearly half of the world's seven billion people," according to the International Rice Research Institute and the Canadian table may just be joining them. As a starchy side dish potato consumption as a side dish has dropped over the last decade or so. Our cultural mosaic may indeed be driving this and that is a good thing since at least one study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences showed that rice consumption was associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake than seen in non-rice consumers.
When you drill down a bit on the likely reasons, not only is whole grain rice itself more nutrient-rich than some other starches common at our dinner tables, but it also is typically served with highly nutritious items like beans, fish, tomatoes and greens. It is that cascading inspiration of adding rice which opens the door to other nutritious foods. Cuisines all over the world benefit from the "company rice keeps" and Canadians know a good thing when they see/taste it.
Canada doesn't grow rice, (wild rice is an aquatic grass) meaning U.S.-grown rice is as local as it gets, which explains why nearly 70 per cent of our rice is from south of the border. Nutritionally, whole grain rice hits a few key notes:
- Rice is the original gluten free, hypo-allergenic grain so it is great for everyone at your holiday table no matter what dietary restrictions exist.
- Most North Americans consume only half of the magnesium that they should. Magnesium is critical for muscle function, the heart is the largest muscle in the body. There is more magnesium in 1 cup of cooked long grain brown rice (21 per cent daily value) than in 3.5 cups of spinach (20 percent daily value.
- 1 cup of brown rice has almost 4 g of fibre while 3.5 cups of raw spinach has only 2.2 g (But eat both! They are delicious together)
In Canada, we do not have to look far for rice recipe inspiration, thanks to our diverse cultural landscape, the flavours of Greece, Italy, Portugal and the Middle East are within reach.
Here is one that I particularly love shared by USA Rice:
ONE POT GREEK CHICKEN SPANAKORIZO
One Pot Greek Chicken Spanakorizo - Brown rice is perfect for this one pot wonder as its longer cooking time is perfect for creating tender chicken pieces. Whether for a family meal or entertaining, this dish will have everyone saying OPA!
To change the flavors switch out the lemon marinate for Italian salad dressing and the oregano for Italian Seasoning. Use parmesan instead of feta and you have a whole new dish. Or, swap oregano for curry powder and feta for plain yogurt and India is at your dinner table. You get the idea, start with the basics and use your imagination.
¼ cup (50 mL) lemon juice
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon zest
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each sea salt and pepper
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or thighs
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp (30 mL) dried oregano
1 tbsp (15 mL) chili flakes
1 ½ cups (375 mL) USA long grain brown rice
1 ½ cups (375 mL) chicken broth
½ cup (125 mL) dry white wine
4 cups packed baby spinach
½ cup (125 mL) crumbled feta
¼ cup (50 mL) chopped parsley
In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp zest, 1 tbsp oil, salt and pepper and chicken. Marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Heat a large Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium high heat, sear chicken pieces on both sides to a golden brown; remove to plate. In same pot sauté onion, garlic, oregano and chili flakes with 1 tbsp oil until onions are softened, stir in rice. Add broth, wine and remaining lemon juice; bring to a boil. Stir in spinach, reduce heat to a low simmer and top with chicken pieces. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 40-45 minutes undisturbed until chicken juices run clear and rice is tender.
Stir in 1 tbsp zest, feta, oregano and parsley just before serving.
Makes four servings.
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