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May 17, 1999


Seduced By Rice

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Mabel Fernandes

Alford and Duguid..authors 'Somewhere along the line we found ourselves hooked on rice, as a way of preparing meals. Just as in hundreds of millions of homes all around the world where rice is a staple food, we took on the habit of putting rice on to cook first thing in the kitchen. It is effortless.' -- Alford and Duguid

How can one be seduced by something as ordinary as rice? This is a question Alford and Duguid, acclaimed food writers and winners of the Julia Child and James Beard award for cookbooks, faced often while working on their just released Seduction of Rice.

They would explain how, intrigued by the variety of rice and tradition across the world, they traveled with their two sons, Dominic and Tashi, to the major rice-eating regions, where they immersed themselves in the daily lives and rituals of the people around them. Whether in a tiny village in Thailand, on a rice farm in the mountains of Japan, or in the heart of sprawling Calcutta or around the Ayurvedic centers in Kerala, they plunked themselves down next to people who know rice as a way of life. They spent time in early-morning markets, in paddies with village farmers, and in kitchens with helpful neighbors, trying to understand the seductions of rice.

The authors invite the readers to be seduced by -- the world of rice through more than two hundred photographs, 200 authentic recipes, and dozens of personal stories from years of travel around the world.

Alford and Duguid exploded on to the American food scene in 1995 with the publication of their first book, Flatbeds and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas, which taught a host of Americans about one of the world’s most traditional and sustaining foods.

image of the book Seductions of Rice In their second book, Seduction of Rice, they explore another staple of daily life around the world -- rice. 'Good rice is like good bread,' they write. 'It always tastes real and it always sparks an appetite. In fact, this is even truer with rice, as it goes so well with a staggering number of different foods, from Senegalese peanut stew to Yunnanese spicy pork.'

Rice is the heart and soul of such dishes as Chinese stir-fries, Spanish paellas, Japanese sushi, Indian thorans, Thai salads, Turkish pilafs, Italian risottos, Senegalese yassas and American gumbos.

Seduction of Rice opens with all the basics of rice, everything a reader would want to know. Then on to the cultures of rice: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Senegalese, and North American.

Recipes either made from rice or to accompany rice range from Chinese Congee to Thai Green Papaya Salad to Japanese Quick Morning Miso Soup to South Indian Lentil Stew to Cuban Black Beans to Mexican Green Rice.

You may want to try the Chinese Cucumber-Sesame Salad over a bowl of rice on a hot summer’s night or dig in to Turkish Slow-Cooked Lamb and Onion Stew on a chilly winter’s evening.

Not so long ago, the range of rices on supermarket shelves ran from white (plain) to white (converted). In the last few years, the quality and variety of rices available has taken a giant leap forward. Today one chooses from among Thai Jasmine Rice, California Wehani, Brown Japanese Rice, Indian and Pakistani basmati rice, Chinese Black rice, and Gobindovog – just to name a few. Introductory chapters in Seduction of Rice explore these varieties as well as the myriad ways of cooking, cultivating, cleaning, husking and milling rice and include a comprehensive rice dictionary -- a guidebook for the world of rice.

Whether eaten in a bowl, on a plate, in a salad, or on a banana leaf -- for breakfast, dinner, or dessert -- rice is the great facilitator, unrivaled in its adaptability and versatility. It’s the ultimate comfort food, yet easily turned into the most sophisticated of dishes, Alfred and Duguid write.


Grilled Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Yang, from Thailand)

Serves 6

This salad can be made quickly when guests turn up expectedly.


11/2 Chinese (purple Asian) eggplants (12 medium)
½ cup finely sliced shallots
½ cup fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves (known in Vietnamese as rau ram or in Thai as pak chi wietnam)
(added to fresh mint if desired)


6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (see glossary)
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ to 1 bird chile or serrano chile, finely minced
1 small head Bibb or other tender lettuce (optional)


Slice the eggplants on the diagonal into 1/8 to ¼ inch slices. If broiling, arrange the slices on a large lightly oiled baking sheet and place on the top rack of the oven. If grilling, place the slices directly on the grill rack or in a wire-mesh grilling rack. Broil or grill until golden brown on the first side, about 7 to 8 minutes, then turn and cook until golden brown on the second side. Let cool briefly, than coarsely chop. Transfer to a large bowl.

Separate the shallot slices into rings with your fingers and add to the eggplant. Add the Vietnamese coriander or mixed herbs.

In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and mix well. Pour over the salad, then toss gently to mix. The salad is best if left to stand for half an hour before serving; this gives the flavors a chance to blend and to soak into the eggplant.

Serve the salad mounded on a decorative colorful plate, or line a large plate with lettuce leaves, then mound the salad on top. Serve with jasmine or sticky rice.

Lamb and Peanut Stew
(Mafe, from Senegal)

Serves 6 to 8 with rice


2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
2 large onions
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (optional)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ pound okra, chopped into ½ inch lengths
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 to 5 cups water
2 large or 4 medium tomatoes or 6 drained canned tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons dried shrimp (see glossary), minced or pounded to a powder (or substitute 2 dried scallops, minced)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/3 cup natural (unsweetened) peanut butter
2 serrano chiles or dried red chiles
Freshly ground black pepper


Cut the meat into approximately ½ inch cubes, discarding any large chunks of fat. Cut the onions lengthwise in half, then thinly slice lengthwise. If the onions are large, cut the slices once or twice crosswise. Place the sweet potato, carrots, and okra in a bowl of cold water until ready to use.

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Toss in half the onions and half the garlic. Stir briefly, then add the meat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the tomato paste and 1 cup of the water. Add to the meat, together with the chopped tomatoes and dried shrimp or scallops. Add 2 more cups water and bring to a boil. Add the carrots and sweet potatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the okra, along with 1 to 2 cups more water if necessary to cover the vegetables, and bring back to boil. Add the salt and cook at a strong simmer for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, blend the peanut butter with 1 cup of the hot broth. Stir into the lamb mixture, then add the chiles, the remaining onion and garlic, and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat until most of the water has evaporated and the sauce is fairly thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve over plain rice.

Rice Pudding with Saffron and Rose Water
(Zerde from Turkey)

Serves 6 to 8


1 teaspoon saffron threads, briefly dry-roasted (see page 431) and ground to a powder
About 61/2 cups water
½ cup medium-grain rice, such as blado, arborio, or CalRiso
11/4 cups sugar
¼ cup rose water (see glossary)
3 tablespoons cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, or arrowroot
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly dry-roasted
A handful of pomegranate seeds (optional)


Place the saffron in a small bowl. Pour over ½ cup of the water and let it soak for 30 minutes, then stir to dissolve the saffron and set aside.

Put the rice and 6 cups water in large pot. Bring to a boil and boil over medium heat until the rice is very soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook for another 30 minutes over low heat.

Add the rose water and the saffron mixture, bring back to a medium boil, and boil for several minutes. In a sm all bowl, blend together the starch and 2 tablespoons water. Add to the rice and boil for 1 minute more; the pudding will thicken.

Pour the pudding into small dessert bowls and chill well. Serve garnished with a few pine nuts and the optional pomegranate seeds. Place the remaining pine nuts in a small bowl on the table so guests can add extra as they wish.


Fish Sauce: An essential flavoring ingredient in many parts of Southeast Asia, fish sauce is known in Thai as nam pla and in Vietnamese as nuoc mam. Thai fish sauce is a light amber color and has a salty, somewhat pungent taste (milder than its strong smell). Fish sauce is available from Southeast Asian and Chinese groceries. Try to find a pale-colored (which equates with higher quality) Thai brand, such as Flying Lion Brand or the fairly common Squid Brand made by the Thai Fishsauce Company. Fish sauce keeps indefinitely in the cupboard.

Dried Shrimp: Used in Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cooking as a flavoring and widely available in Chinese and Southeast Asian grocery stores. Dried shrimp are small and pinkish orange. Buy firm-looking shrimp in well-sealed plastic packages. After opening, seal well and store in the refrigerator, they keep good for a month or two. If they start to smell strong, throw them out.

Rose Water: This aromatic water is used to scent desserts. It is available from Arab, Iranian, and South Asian groceries and from some natural foods stores.

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