SOUTHERN RED RICE
Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook
by Kim O'Donnel
When I make a pot of Southern red rice, I feel as if I'm taking a bite out of history.
Rice was a major contributing factor for a booming slave trade in South Carolina for more than one hundred years and has played a pivotal role in African American history, cuisine, and culture. In the 1730s, Charleston, South Carolina, was rice central, where some twelve thousand slaves from West Africa were indentured for this purpose. And in the cuisine of the Gullah people, descendants of these slaves, rice figures prominently. Red rice is one such dish, and it is believed to be an adaptation of Jollof rice, a tomato-based pilaf from the Wolof people of West Africa.
Traditionally, red rice is seasoned with pork fat, but this version gets its smoke from smoked paprika, a.k.a. pimenton de la vera. Tangy, garlicky, and pillowy on the tongue, the rice feels more like a risotto than a pilaf. It plays nicely with the roasted green bean medley, but would graciously welcome okra if the cook wants to go all-out southern.
Kitchen Notes: You may grill the veg in lieu of roasting them. Make sure you have a grill basket big enough for even cooking. The balsamic vinegar would be applied just before serving. Whatever you decide, prep the veg medley while the rice is simmering.
When in season, vine-ripe tomatoes, are the obvious choice for the "red" part of the rice. Use 2 pounds of tomatoes, cored and quartered.
Makes 4 servings
• 1 (28-ounce) can whole Italian tomatoes, preferably without salt
• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• Leaves from 1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
• A glug of your favorite hot sauce (optional)
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 medium-size onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1½ cups uncooked long-grain rice
• 2 to 2½ cups water
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
In a food processor or heavy-duty blender, puree the tomatoes until well blended and season with the red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and thyme and hot sauce (if using).
In a medium-size saucepan with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stirring to keep from burning, and saute for 1 minute. The kitchen will begin to smell good.
Add the rice, stir to coat with the aromatics, and allow to toast for 1 to 2 minutes. The rice will become fragrant and slightly translucent.
Add 2 cups of the water and bring to a lively simmer. Transfer the puree to the rice mixture, stir to combine, and return to a lively sim- mer. It will look very soupy, but don't fret.
Lower the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not stir. If the rice is getting too dry, add the balance of the water, 1 table- spoon at a time.
Return the cover and continue to cook for an additional 20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. The rice will be somewhat wet and sticky (like a risotto) versus dry and fluffy (like a pilaf).