Vegetable stews, curries, stir-frys, and countless other plant-based meals are perfect partners for rice. But if your approach is to simply cook the rice and serve it up plain from the pan, you’re missing countless opportunities to bring more flavor, color, and excitement to your vegetarian and vegan meals.

In her enticing new book, The Heart of the Plate, Mollie Katzen offers plenty of inspiration for elevating rice to tasty new levels. One of our favorites is her Cranberry Rice, shown above, which can stand on its own as a mini-meal or snack, make a beautiful addition to a plate of cooked green or raw vegetables, or partner deliciously with vegetable main dishes.

Take a look at what’s on your pantry shelves and in your refrigeration and start experimenting with the rice you already have on hand.  Then, head out to your supermarket and take look at the many different kinds of rice on the shelves. Red, black, and purple varieties are almost always whole grain and thus offer more nutrients and fiber than white rice. We guarantee that you’d soon find a helping of plain rice just too dull for words.

Cranberry-Currant-Pomegranate Rice
This recipe is based upon Mollie Katzen’s Cranberry Rice, from her new book, The Heart of the Plate.
Serves 4-6

1 cup red rice
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
Salt to taste
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
¼ cup currants or chopped dried cranberries
2 teaspoons agave nectar or sugar
Pomegranate seeds

Combine the rice and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the rice is tender.  (Follow the package directions for the cooking time.) Remove the rice from the heat and let it sit, covered.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, sprinkle with salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are tender. Stir in the cranberries and cook for 5 minutes longer, until the cranberries are soft.  Stir in the currants and the agave. Turn off the heat and begin adding the rice to the mixture in the skillet, stirring it in with a fork.  Serve garnished with pomegranate seeds.

More Ideas to Wake up Your Rice
Once you start to experiment with rice, there’s no turning back!  You may well find, as we did, that you want to combine several of the ideas below.

  • Sprinkle freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon juice, or lime juice over cooked rice, along with a bit of grated peel and some toasted coconut.
  • Add 1 can of drained, rinsed chickpeas, black or red beans to rice as soon as it’s done and let the mixture sit, covered, in the saucepan for 5 minutes, before serving.
  • Add a spoonful of pesto and slivered almonds to hot cooked rice.
  • Cook rice in one saucepan and barley, farro, freekeh, quinoa, or wild rice in another and combine the two when each is done. (Then try combing three whole grains!)
  • Add chopped baby spinach, and/or baby kale to hot rice before serving.
  • Try fresh herbs, too. Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro provide flecks of color.  
  • For a burst of yellow, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric to brown rice cooking water.
  • Add dried fruit to cooked rice: Raisins, chopped dried cranberries or figs, dried blueberries, currants, diced dates, and diced apricots lend haunting flavors.
  • Or add fresh fruit. Diced grapes, peeled, chopped oranges, diced pineapple, slivers of kiwi, diced plums, diced peaches, or pomegranate seeds are tasty and colorful surprises.
  • Nuts add a nice texture to cooked rice. Try chopped pecans, almonds, pistachios, or walnuts. For extra flavor, toast them lightly.
  • Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chopped pumpkin seeds also add flavor and texture.
  • Keep frozen veggies such as corn, peas, and diced greens on hand.  Zap them for a few minutes in the microwave and stir them into hot cooked rice.

Do you have a favorite way that you wake up your rice? 


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