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How to Cook Jasmine Brown Rice for Maximum Nutrition

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Brown rice can be easy to cook and very nutritious. Today a growing number of people concerned about healthful eating are turning from consuming white rice to whole-grain brown rice, even in Thailand. But many of them complain that it takes a lot more time and water to cook brown rice and sometimes the result can be a little mushy. More worrisome is the fact that few of them are aware that when they cook brown rice without proper treatment ahead of time, they may end up getting only a small fraction of the nutrition stored in the grain, There also are a number of anti-nutrients contained in whole grains that can potentially cause harm if not neutralized.

Rice for Sale

Rice at Aw Taw Kaw Market

(Click images to see larger version.)

Whole-grain brown rice is a seed and like most seeds, it contains phytates– nature’s own preservative and insecticide which lock in nutrients to keep the seed viable until conditions are ideal for it to sprout. When the grain is still new (less than a year after harvest), the phytates (and other anti-nutrients) in the bran are especially intact, keeping the grain bug-free as insects know not to eat it at this stage since they can be harmed by doing so. (In humans, the phytic acid contained in these compounds binds with key minerals , especially calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc and can inhibit their absorption in the intestinal tract, leading to mineral deficiencies.) Over time, if the conditions for storage are less than ideal, the phytates eventually break down and the fragile rice bran oil turn rancid, and when they do, bugs begin to infiltrate and feast on the grain that has lost nature’s protection.

Different Rices

Whole grain rices

For those of us who are gardeners, we know that hard-to-sprout seeds benefit from soaking in warm water overnight. The moisture and warmth send a signal to the germ of the seed that life-supporting conditions are now present. The seed unlocks its nutrients by breaking down the phytates that until then protected the seed from spoiling, and begins to germinate or sprout.

The same is true of whole-grain rice (as well as wheat and other whole-grain cereals, nuts and dry legumes). When we soak it overnight, or for several hours, especially in warm water since it is the seed of a tropical grass, the potentially harmful phytates break down, making the full range of nutrients available to the rice germ to push forth new life. At this stage, the unlocked nutrients also become available to us when we consume the rice.

Soaking Brown Rice

Soaking brown rice

I’ve always soaked whole-grain rice before cooking, mainly because this treatment makes the rice not only easier to cook, but taste a whole lot better. Several years ago I came across an article in a health and nutrition journal that gave me another reason to tell my cooking students why they should soak their brown rice before cooking. Notably, intensive rice research conducted in Japan over the past two decades revealed how the nature of the nutrients in whole-grain rice changed when given a water bath to awaken the grain. Curious scientists were eager to discover how long the grain needed to be soaked for the the full range of nutrients locked inside of it to be fully released. If I recall correctly, the research found that the ideal number of hours is twenty-two (22).

This interesting piece of information got me soaking my brown rice one evening to be cooked the following evening, or close to the recommended twenty-two hours. In the past, I’ve soaked whole-grain rice only about three to four hours, or overnight, before cooking – particularly black sticky rice which swells when soaked, requiring little water and time to cook. I experimented with soaking for a full day brown jasmine rice mixed with a small amount of a red rice called “kao man bpoo” (literally “crab fat rice” but unfortunately sold in the USA by a less than appealing name of “red cargo rice”). This red rice was one of the first whole-grain rice to be embraced by the health food movement in Thailand as especially nourishing. I used warm tap water to start but didn’t bother with maintaining the warmth for the entire time of soaking. The result was indeed amazing!

Steamed Soaked Rice

The steamed soaked rice.

The grains absorbed a lot of water and grew fat, with the germ – or the “nose” of the rice as Thais call it – enlarged as if they were getting ready to sprout. Being an avid gardener, that was quite exciting to see. The soaked grains exuded a sweet fresh aroma as if they had come to life – as if they had just been harvested from the rice paddy! The grains took a little less water to cook than white rice (if you like your rice al dente) and about the same length of time as white rice using my usual method of steaming rice taught to my cooking students (read on). The cooked grains stayed whole, looked beautiful and, best of all, tasted wonderful – with a delicious nuttiness and invitingly fresh fragrance – much more so than when soaked for the three to four hours I used to do in the past. I am now convinced that the fully released nutrients are what add to the tastiness of the rice.

So, next time you cook brown rice, soak it this evening to cook tomorrow evening. I usually rinse the rice a couple of times, then cover with plenty of water as much of it will be absorbed by the grains. If it’s too much trouble to maintain warmth for the duration of the soaking time, room temperature works just fine. In fact, if you soak the rice in warm water for that long, fermentation can take place and produce a slightly off smell. It is, therefore, recommended that you change the water a few times during those 22 hours if warmth is maintained the whole time. For me, in my northern California kitchen, I find soaking the rice at room temperature for all those hours woks well enough in awakening the grain.

Steamed Rice Close-up

Steamed rice close-up

I like to steam the rice using the same method I use to cook white jasmine rice as described on my website. (See Steamed Jasmine Rice Recipe.) This technique is a true steam method unlike one-compartment electric rice cookers which actually boil rather than steam the rice and, therefore, produce a less tasty result. All you need is a deep heat-proof bowl and a pot large enough to accommodate it. Place a trivet of some kind in the pot on which the bowl containing the rice can rest. Look in the cookware section of large Asian supermarkets for such a utensil, or you can improvise by using a small overturned dish, such as a ramekin, or even an empty tin can cut away on both ends, Fill the pot with a couple of inches of water and bring to a boil. In a separate kettle, boil some water.

Golden Phoenix Brown Rice

Golden Phoenix brown rice

Drain the soaked rice, lightly rinse once and drain again. Place in the heatproof bowl and level out the rice. The bowl should be about half full with rice. Place the bowl on the stand in the pot and add hot boiling water to the rice – to about half an inch above the grains (for al dente) to three-quarters of an inch (for softer rice). When the water in the pot below the lifted bowl comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium, or to a level where you can still hear water boiling in the pot and see steam escaping from the edge of the lid. Let steam for about 25 to 30 minutes. After the rice is cooked, you can keep it warm for a long time by simply turning down the heat to the lowest setting. With this method of steaming, you need not worry about burning your rice and the bowl is very easy to clean once you’ve dished out the cooked rice.

For a delicious brown rice meal, try the Golden Phoenix label’s blend of jasmine brown rice which contains a small amount of red cargo rice for added color, flavor and nutrition. Buy a bag that shows a date of harvest or shipment of less than one year. It’s available in five- and ten-pound bags in many large Asian markets. The bulk of Golden Phoenix’s rice come from Northeastern Thailand where among the most fragrant jasmine rices are grown.


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, November 2010

Hua Hin Treats

Michael Babcock, Thursday, September 16th, 2010

In Hua Hin, Thailand, about 120 km south of Bangkok, there’s a great place to buy snacks. Readers of this blog can be forgiven for thinking that all Kasma and I ever do in Thailand is visit restaurants and markets where we eat all the time. Come to think about it, that’s pretty accurate! Actually, though that’s a bit of an exaggeration, food is never too far from our minds in Thailand, in part because it is so widely available and visible. When we travel around Thailand we rarely miss an opportunity to visit a market and inevitably, over the years, we’ve gotten to know some markets very well.

Hua Hin Intersection

Look for this intersection

Meechai Shop

Mee Chai Shop

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Mee Chai Shop Sign

Look for this sign

One of our regular markets is Hua Hin Market, for we drive through Hua Hin once or twice a year on our way down South, both on Kasma’s small-group trips to Thailand and when we travel on our own.

Another reason we stop in Hua Hin is to pick up Thai kanom (snacks) at one of our favorite snack spots in all Thailand. It’s a storefront called Raan Mee Chai or, in English, “Mee Chai Shop.” It’s found directly opposite the main market in Hua Hin, right on the main road through town. It is just past Soi 55/2 and as you head south it will be on your left hand side.

Kanom Tian Sign

Sign and Kanom Tian

We make a special visit to this store to buy a number of treats. I’m convinced that they make the best Kanom Tian in Thailand. You may have seen this treat in Thai markets and not known exactly what it was – it’s one of a number of Thai treats that are wrapped in banana leaves. This particular kanom is a pyramid-shaped, dough-filled savory treat and is widely available in markets everywhere around Chinese New Year as well as Songkran (Thai New Year). The Thai word, tian means candle, so it is the “candle snack.” (It is perhaps named that because of all the candles lit on the holidays when it is usually available.)

Kanom Tian

Kanom Tian, unwrapped

The dough is made from sticky-rice flour while the stuffing contains mung beans and spices, sometimes pork. The dough at MeeChai is particularly gooey and tasty while I’ve never had a filling elsewhere that is so peppery and savory; this one is pork-free. It’s worth a trip to Hua Hin (and this shop) just for this one snack. I’ve pretty much stopped buying kanom tian elsewhere because it always disappoints: it’s never as good as from this shop.

Here’s a recipe for Kanom Tian – Stuffed Dough Pyramid Dessert. Although I can’t vouch for how good the recipe  is, I’m including it because it has a sequence of pictures that give a very good idea about how the snack is made.

Trays of Custards

Trays of custards

The second treat that I like at Mee Chai shop is their Baked Coconut Cream and Taro Custard (Kanom Maw Gkaeng Peuak). (Another transliteration of the Thai might be Khanom Maw Kaeng.) This is actually a snack that another town on the way to Hua Hin – Phetchaburi – is famous for; Thai travelers will make a special stop at Phetchaburi just to buy this custard. They’d be better off going to Hua Hin! I’ve had this snack from several different places in Phetchaburi and I think Kanom Maw Gkaeng here at MeeChai is the best I’ve ever had. It is an incredibly rich, creamy delicious baked custard.

Baked custard

Baked custard – Kanom Maw Gkaeng

One of the secrets to this delightfully rich custard is that it uses duck eggs rather than chicken eggs. I’ve made it at home using 100% duck eggs and 100% chicken eggs as well a combination of both; by far the best result comes from using 100% duck eggs. The other ingredients are coconut cream (the thicker the better), palm sugar, and taro that has been cooked and mashed. This dessert is very, very rich. With the Mee Chai version  a small square is enough; I eat small bites at a time wanting the delectable smoothness and taste sensation on my tongue to go on and on and on.

Pineapple Cookies

Pineapple Cookies

The other snack we always get is a box of pineapple cookies. These consist of a pineapple filling between two almost cracker-like outer cookies. Although we see these cookies in many places in Thailand, this shop sells the best ones we’ve found, though I don’t think they make the cookies themselves as they do the custards and kanom tian. I find these cookies are best eaten after snorkeling for a couple hours! (Underwater Photos from Thailand)

The shop also sells other treats, other types of custards and also sticky rice and mango. Try anything that looks good to you because it is all good. They also sell a number of nahm prik (chilli pastes), nahm jihm (dipping sauces) and gkabpi (shrimp paste), perfect for taking home or as gifts.


Previous blogs on Thai snacks (kanom):

Serving Sticky Rice

Serving sticky rice


Written by Michael Babcock, September 2010

Berkeley Farmer’s Market (Saturday)

Michael Babcock, Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Saturday Farmer’s Market in Berkeley, on Center Street at Martin Luther King (MLK) Way, is one of our two favorite local farmer’s markets; the other is the the Friday Old Oakland Farmer’s Market. Every Saturday when we’re at home in the Bay Area, rain or shine, we go to the Saturday Berkeley Farmer’s Market. Although the market is scheduled to open at 10:00 a.m., we usually get there somewhat early in order to get good parking and make sure we get some of our favorite items before they sell out.

Berkeley Farmer's Market

Saturday Berkeley Farmer's Market

I love local farmer’s markets. They are as close as I can get to the street markets in Thailand. I love knowing who is growing my food and that the producer gets all the money from my purchase. By going weekly, I get to know what is in season and what is not: in California where the seasons are often similar, it’s a way to be in touch with the changing year.

Here are the stalls where we shop week after week at the Saturday morning Berkeley Farmer’s Market. We prefer the Saturday market (Berkeley also has markets on Tuesday and Thursday) because that’s the only day that all of our favorite vendors are there. You can get a full listing of all the vendors at the Berkeley Ecology Center website. One advantage to the Berkeley Farmer’s Market is that nearly every stall is organic and the few that are not are often pesticide-free or transitional.

Pictures for this blog are from both Michael and Kasma. They were all taken in July of this year (2010) and reflect what is available at this time of year. Click on an image to see a larger version.

Mostly Vegetables

Riverdog Farms

Tomatoes

Riverdog farm tomatoes

Riverdog Bird

Kasma's dove likes Riverdog!


Riverdog Farms is one of the first places I look for produce at the Berkeley Farmer’s market. Everything always looks so fresh and eatable! Green beans, cherry tomatoes, asparagus (in season), snap peas, carrots (orange and red) are things I buy here. They also have delicious pastured chickens that are very tasty indeed. Their almond butter is absolutely fabulous!

Catalan Family Farm

Catalan Stall

Catalan market stall

Strawberries

Strawberries from Catalan Farm

I always check out the vegetables at Catalan Family Farms, often buying onions, green beans or cauliflower there. This year (2010) I think they’ve had the best strawberries at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market; week after week we tasted as many strawberries as we could (I love tasting fruit before I buy, a definite plus for farmer’s markets) and we usually bought them here.

Blue Heron Farms

Cilantro

Cilantro, roots attached

Flowers

Flowers from Blue Heron

We are eternally grateful to Blue Heron for being the one place where, week after week, we can be certain of getting cilantro roots. Cilantro roots are a critical ingredient in many Thai curries, soups and stir-fries. In Kasma’s weeklong advanced classes, she may need a couple cups of cilantro roots for various dishes over the week: thankfully we can get them at Blue Heron. I’ve also bought their carrots and other greens. This summer they also have had a beautiful selection of flowers. Unfortunately, they take a break in the winter months: we miss them.

Vang Family Farm

Eggplants

Eggplants from Vang Family Farm


Vang Family Farm is the one Asian produce vendor at the Saturday Berkeley Farmer’s Market. He often has a variety of ingredients that we find useful: the Thai eggplants shown here, daikon, Asian greens such as Chinese broccoli (ka-nah, in Thai). Lemongrass and Thai Basil (bai horapa) are available sometimes. His prices are always a bit lower than the other stands.

Happy Boy Farms

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes from Happy Boy

Edible Flowers

Edible flowers from Happy Boy

Happy Boy Farms is another produce stand we like. This year (2010) they were the first to have heirloom tomatoes and they have been very, very good indeed. If I’m going to get a salad mix, I get it here.

Lucero Organic Farm

Okra

Okra

Squash

Lucero Farm summer squash

Lucero Organic Farms has excellent produce. Their summer squashes are great and they often have okra, including some varieties I never see elsewhere. Their heirloom tomatoes are also outstanding.

Brooks & Daughters

Sprouts

Sprouts from Brooks & Daughters

Brooks & Daughters sells sprouts of many different varieties. I’ll sometimes get the plain alfalfa, other times a clover mix and sometimes just plain broccoli sprouts. Sold by the handful, they are a great snack.

Solano Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Mushrooms from Solano Mushrooms


It should come as no surprise that Solano Mushroom sells mushrooms; mushrooms of all kinds, in fact. Here we see Royal Trumpet (Eryngii) mushrooms, our favorite for a snap-pea with oyster sauce stir fry. They have many varieties such as chanterelle, porcini and oyster, all very fresh indeed.

Fruit

Frog Hollow

Peaches

Frog Hollow peaches for tasting

For stone fruits, it’s usually hard to beat Frog Hollow. This is where I often buy my peaches, apricots, nectarines and pluots. Their Flavor King pluots are the best I’ve ever tasted. They are always very generous with their tastings. This year we depended on them for cherries.

Woodleaf Farm

Peaches

Woodleaf Farm peaches


Woodleaf Farm is the other stall that we depend on for peaches. They have some of the best peaches I’ve ever eaten. Like many other vendors, they are always willing to give you a sample. It’s smart marketing: often once I’ve tasted one of their peaches I’m hooked.

Kashiwase Farms

Fruit Tasting

Fruit tasting at Kashiwase

I think Kashiwase has the best tasting at the market; they usually have eight to ten varieties of stone fruit (in season) and have a tasting table with samples of all of them. Nectarines are the one fruit I find myself buying over and over here.

Smit Orchards

Smit Orchards

Smit Orchards


Smit Orchards is my go-to stall for Gala and Pink Lady apples, which become available in the fall. They are at the market year-round with other organic fruits, such as cherries and yummy grapes.

Meat & Fish

Highland Hills Farm

Sign

Highland Hills sign


Highland Hills Farm has the best pork I’ve ever tasted. We’ve especially enjoyed their pork belly, pork butt and ground pork. They also have wild boar. All their meats, beef, pork, lamb, goat and chickens, are pasture raised.

Fatted Calf

Market Stall

Fatted Calf market stall


The Fatted Calf is one reason we come to the Saturday market: it’s the only market it visits in the East Bay. They specialize in local and sustainably raised meats transformed into meaty goods. It’s an unusual week when I don’t get at least one of my favorite products: liverwurst (with a delightful smoked flavor), Mexican Chorizo (see my blog on Bitter Melon, Chorizo and Egg) or crepinettes (flavored meat patties – yummy!). I’ve enjoyed their sausages, duck liver mousse and sausages as well. And when they have leaf lard for sale, I jump all over it: lard is the best fat I’ve ever found for stir-frying.

Update, March 2011: Unfortunately, Fatted Calf no longer comes to the Berkeley Farmer’s market. They do have a store on Fell Street in San Francisco.

Hudson Fish

Black Cod

Hudson Fish black cod

Although everything here is fresh and wonderful looking, I rely on Hudson Fish mainly for the black cod (AKA butterfish). Butterfish is a good name for it: it melts in your mouth like butter. For a drunken stir-fry or a pad gkaprow (holy basil stir-fry), there is no better fish.

Prepared Food

Morell’s Bread

Morell's Bread

Morell's Bread

Raisin Rye Bread

Raisin Rye Bread

Eduardo Morell’s breads are my favorite breads anywhere: they are true artisan breads. Naturally leavened by whole wheat starters (no commercial yeast or chemical leavening are used in any of the products), they are dense, chewy and full-flavored delicious. My favorite loaves are the Multigrain and the Raisin Rye bread. I’ll also get the 100% Spelt bread for variety and occasionally a loaf made with an heirloom variety of wheat from the local Full Belly Farm. Toasted and with butter, they are satisfying and filling. Eduardo also makes delicious scones, both multi-grain raisin scones and fruit scones using seasonal fruits from vendors in the market. Anything here is highly recommended! The only places these breads and scones are available anywhere are the Saturday and Thursday Berkeley Farmer’s Markets. (Morell’s Bread Website)

Cultured

Pickles

Seasonal specialties at Cultured

Naturally fermented foods are some of the healthiest foods you can eat: the natural fermentation creates beneficial gut bacteria that helps with digestion and helps boost the immune system. Cultured is another reason to attend the Saturday market (they’re also at the Tuesday Berkeley market). In addition to sauerkraut (I like the Traditional, the Nutra Kraut and the Lemon Garlic Dill), Cultured offers seasonal specialties, which change from week to week. My absolute favorite product here is the Beets with Fennel. They also sell kombucha. (My favorite article on the importance of bacteria is Garry Hamilton’s Why We Need Germs.)

Bariani Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Bariani Olive Oil


Although we eat mainly Thai food at home, when I make a salad I’ll often use olive oil from Bariani Olive Oil. It’s a family-run operation that oversees every step of the process themselves. It’s organic and very tasty, with a slight grassy taste that I find enjoyable. They also make a very nice balsamic vinegar.

Big Paw Grub

Big Paw is the other olive oil I enjoy: it’s somewhat less grassy than Bariani. They also make balsamic vinegar here that, combined with olive oil, makes a very complete and tasty salad dressing. The Apricot Lavender is delicious but my favorite is the Mission Fig.


Floating Market (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Boat Vendor, Damneon Saduak Floating Market

Frying Bananas

Frying Bananas on a boat at Damneon Saduak Floating Market

Everyone should visit Damneon Saduak Floating Market south of Bangkok at least once. I recommend doing what Kasma does on her trips: hire a car, get up at the crack of dawn and arrive at the market around 7:00 a.m. in the morning. Then rent a boat and enjoy being paddled around on the klong (canals). At that time in the morning it’s a true local market: the tourists and tourist buses haven’t yet arrived and you can enjoy the market in relative peace and quiet.

I have te believe that images such as this are among the most widely known images of Thailand: a vendor on a boat with a straw hat. I love this picture of Kasma’s, taken on an old 35-mm Olympus camera in 1999. The first time I went to the market I was amazed to see vendors cooking everything right on the boat.

Floating markets are largely a remnant from the past, when much of the country lived along the canals (klong). Recently many other floating markets have opened, many of them much more strictly local than Damneon Saduak, perhaps the best known of the Thai floating markets.


See also:


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Thai Fast Food (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Pre-made Food at Aw Taw Kaw Market

Pre-made Thai Food

Pre-made food at Aw Taw Kaw

Kasma sent this picture to me when she was at Aw Taw Kaw (Or Tor Kor) market in Bangkok enjoying herself and I was back in California taking care of things here. I am such a sucker for pictures of street food / market food. I loved the picture: just seeing it brought up the feel of a Thai market, with the delicious looking pre-made food amongst interesting stalls, the smiling vendors and the jostling crowds. It would be very hard to just walk past this delicious looking crab. Yum!


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.


Previous blogs on Aw Taw Kaw:

Hmong Sausage Vendor (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Hmong Sausage Vendor

Hmong Sausage Vendor

Hmong woman grilling sausage

This is a photo of a Hmong woman grilling soul sausage (a subject dear to my heart!) at a Hmong New Year’s celebration in 2003 in a village north of Chiang Mai.

The other day I was musing on the rise of digital cameras leading to the nearly total eclipse of film cameras and waxing a bit nostalgic. As recently as 2003 Kasma and I were still shooting slides and spending several hundred dollars a year on slide film, developing and printing pictures. Now we’re 100% digital. Some days I fantasize about digitizing at least some of the approximately 20,000 slides we have. One of these days. Perhaps.

This picture is posted here In honor of those days gone past, The camera was a Nikon N80, long may it rest in peace!

Here’s another Sausage Vendor (in Ayuthaya).


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.