Grain of truth

Support wholegrain rice - red, brown or wild
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If I promise to mention lentils with brown rice just once, I hope that those of you who are already squirming will remain open to persuasion about the potential of wholegrain rice.

Lentils, largely due to the pert little pebbles of Le Puy, have regained their exalted position in a way brown rice has not. But I shall do my utmost to convince you of its right to be up there with the likes of the wild and red rice that have been enjoying so much attention.

Wild rice, which is not a rice at all but a grass that grows in the marshy areas of North America, has a lingering fragrance tinged with nuttiness. It's easy to understand why it so often ends up partnering game. I can see it also going well with the sticky juices of a jugged hare.

The glossy, jet-black grains are almost too perfect, albeit transitory: they spew a tender white core as the tight black coat bursts at the seams when it cooks, in the fashion of a ripe cotton pod.

Eaten alone, it exercises the jaws, but as a smattering addition to white rice, or something slippery such as roasted red peppers, aubergine or wilted spinach, it is more like eating fine flakes of a nut. Stuffings, I suppose, are its real forte.

Red rice, a more recent arrival, combines the toothsome qualities of the wild version with the more sedate flavour of brown. It does the same bursting-forth bit in the pot, as the swollen inside splits the red pericarp. According to Sri Owen in The Rice Book, red rice was regarded as a weed, but it has become a feature of the Carmargue, where it is grown on the wetlands of the Rhone delta.

It appeals when you want a more substantial grain than brown rice without going to the extremes of wild rice. And the grains tend to remain separate, which makes it good for combining.

I have deliberately left brown rice to last. Firstly, there needs to be a brief mention of the reasons why it has suffered in popularity: health- food restaurants have adopted it as the "house rice", which is as inappropriate as using sushi rice for curries.

Every rice has its place. I regard the varieties of wholegrain rice as specialities - just as white, in its various incarnations, is for every day.

The second error is that it is often sold cooked to take away, so that it knocks around for hours over a hotplate and becomes as alluring as old risotto. But I still enjoy it when it's freshly cooked and the rice is fragrant and unctuous. Basmati, especially, has an incomparable flavour that shines through with the right ingredients in tow.

So there it is, my appreciation of wholegrain rice, with brown rice for special occasions. But just to be on the safe side, perhaps it's best not to wear sandals at the same time.

Wild rice and avocado salad with a mint dressing, serves 4

Mint dressing:

a generous handful of mint leaves

12 small garlic clove, peeled and chopped

34 tsp sea salt

14 tsp black pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard

12 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp lemon juice

6 tbsp pure olive oil

4 tbsp single cream

Salad:

Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a liquidiser and blend.

50 g/2 oz wild rice

75 g/3 oz long-grain white rice

2 heaped tbsp flaked almonds

150 g/5 oz fine green beans, topped, tailed and halved lengthwise

3 spring onions, finely sliced

2 small avocados

handful of watercress sprigs

Boil the wild rice in salted water for 45 minutes. Strain into a sieve, run cold water through it and place in a bowl. Simultaneously, cook the white rice in the same fashion, but for 12-15 minutes, and combine with the wild rice. Toast the almonds in the oven for 7-8 minutes at 180C (fan oven)/190C (electric oven)/375F/gas 5 until lightly golden.

Cook the green beans in salted water for 3-4 minutes until just tender. Remove to a sink of cold water, drain and add to the rice, with the spring onions. You can prepare the salad to this point in advance.

To serve, toss rice with the dressing. To peel the avocado, remove it in two halves from the stone, then incise the skin into quarters and peel it off, and cut the peeled halves into long, thin slices. Gently mix these into the rice and arrange on a plate. Scatter the toasted almonds over the top and place the watercress around the outside.

Brown rice pilaff, serves 4

I like this for lunch, followed by a green salad. But as I mentioned earlier, it doesn't reheat, and needs to be eaten once it's cooked.

50 g/2 oz unsalted butter

3 onions, peeled, halved and sliced

350 g/12 oz brown basmati rice, rinsed

3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

sea salt, black pepper

825 ml/31fl oz water or vegetable stock

350 g/12 oz frozen broad beans, thawed and skinned

34 tsp ground cinnamon

To serve:

150 ml/5fl oz sour cream mixed with a squeeze of lemon juice

cayenne pepper

2 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook the onions until they begin to caramelise: don't rush this as they should colour gently. Add the rice and sweat for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, seasoning and the water. Bring to the boil, cover the saucepan and turn the heat down low. Cook for 50 minutes until the water has been absorbed, adding the skinned broad beans a couple of minutes before the end. Stir in the cinnamon and adjust seasoning. If you want, you can leave it to stand for 10 minutes.

Serve with the sour cream, a fine dusting of cayenne pepper and chopped coriander.

Aubergines stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts and raisins, serves 4

The success of this stuffing depends on adding the right amount of salt and lemon juice to offset the sweetness of the raisins, so be sure to keep tasting before you fill the aubergine halves.

As an accompaniment, I dressed some avocado, broad beans and watercress with the mint dressing above and it went very well together, so perhaps a Greek yoghurt-based salad would do. Or just a few plain leaves.

50 g/2 oz red rice

3 aubergines

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

2 tbsp raisins, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes

2 tbsp pine nuts

4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tbsp sliced basil leaves

1 heaped tbsp finely chopped spring onion

12 tsp ground coriander

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

black pepper

I small egg, beaten

175 g/6 oz ricotta

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the red rice for 45 minutes, then drain and run cold water through it.

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan oven)/190c (electric oven)/375F/Gas 5. Halve the aubergines lengthwise and cut a rim about 0.5 cm/14" inside the flesh of each half. Place on a baking tray, drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake for 30 minutes until tender and golden.

Once cool, cut out the cooked inside of 4 of the halves, leaving a rim as marked. Completely remove the flesh of the remaining 2 halves and chop all the scooped-out flesh together. Place in a bowl. Add the rice and all the remaining ingredients except the ricotta. You may like to adjust the seasoning and taste for the lemon juice before you add the beaten egg. Loosely break the ricotta up into 1cm/12" lumps and gently fold into the mixture: pile it into the four empty shells.

Return to the oven for 20-25 minutes until the surface begins to colour. Serve at room temperature

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