Rice is such an important part of our diet. It is a staple most of the world depends on for sustenance.
India is one of the great rice growing countries of the world. Rice even holds a sacred place in our
culture; a new bride and groom are showered with rice grains as they take their wedding vows to
symbolically bless them with bounty. Rice is a healthy carbohydrate, rich in minerals and vitamins,
yet if you look into most kitchen cupboards you'll find rice that is neither healthy nor nourishing.
Unfortunately, the beautiful grains of white rice that most of us eat on a daily basis are overly
processed, polished in excess and rid of all their goodness.
White rice is nothing but brown rice that has been milled to remove the outer husk. This makes the
rice grain look aesthetically pleasing and easier to cook but actually that depreciates its nutritional
value. The main reason rice is polished, is to increase its shelf life but in doing so much of the
valuable dietary fibre is lost. Brown rice, or rice with the bran helps in weight management and
helps control diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels. It is extremely simple to cook brown rice
and needs no extra effort. The only difference is that brown rice absorbs more water than white rice
and usually takes slightly longer to cook. Once cooked, brown rice can be used in much the same
way as white rice. The consistency is a little different; brown rice has a little grainer texture and
more of a bite. It perfectly complements coconut based Asian curries or can be used in stir fries,
broths and to make porridge. People even use brown rice to make desserts like kheer or payassam.
Some varieties of rice have a husk that is reddish in colour instead of being brown. This sort of
rice grows abundantly in South India, parts of Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa.
Red rice is also a great healthy alternative to eating white rice. It is almost gluten free, very high
in Vitamin B, iron and calcium. In flavour it is nutty, sweet and has a chewy consistency. Just like
other varieties of unhusked rice, it needs more water and a longer time to cook. It can be prepared
in a pressure cooker, in a rice cooker or on the stove top. Red rice is a perfect accompaniment for
South Indian meat and fish curries. Both red and brown rice can be used to make rice dishes like
pilafs and biryanis.
Another great healthy substitute for rice is quinoa. This super-food is slowly gaining popularity
in all parts of the world for its versatility and its nutritional value. Quinoa is actually a seed which
can be used like a cereal or a grain. When it is cooked with water, quinoa seeds fluff up. They
form a light, nutty, mild tasting alternative to white rice. Quinoa responds well to seasoning and
takes on the flavour of herbs and spices. It can be eaten along with gravy dishes; it makes a perfect
accompaniment as it soaks up liquid just like rice does.
Couscous is a staple Middle Eastern and North African food that is made with semolina. It is much
lighter than rice and can also be made with millet. Couscous can either be made with refined or
whole grains. Whole grain couscous is usually made with unhusked durum wheat and is pretty low
in calories. Traditionally, couscous is eaten with stews or goulash but it can be eaten in several
different ways. One can even make upma, sheera and kheer with couscous. It can be cooked along
with meat and vegetables to make a pulao-like dish.
Turning to these white rice substitutes is about making a healthier choice. Eating whole grains is
one tried-and-tested way of lowering the risk of heart disease, controlling cholesterol, avoiding
diabetes and curbing obesity. The best part is you do not have to compromise on flavour and