Thursday, March 15, 2012

Make your side dish shine ... or maybe glow

It seems to me that side dishes often get treated like second-class citizens on the plate. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. Truth is, I like things like plain mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

But it doesn't always have to be that way. Sometimes you want to have a side dish that makes you sit up and take notice. Something with color and flavor and a little bit of something that's ... different.

I know potatoes are the great American starch, but I love rice. I love plain white rice, and I love rice pudding, and I love "Spanish" rice with tomatoes and peppers. I even love wild rice, which isn't rice at all.

As much as I love rice when it's simply prepared, one of the great things about rice is the way it absorbs flavors.

And colors. Because sometimes a white side dish isn't that exciting. Vibrant yellow, on the other hand, can be a great accent on the plate.

In this case, the color - and flavor - comes from turmeric.

Let's take a second here to have a serious talk about spices. When I was a kid, my mother had a container of turmeric. She used it for one thing - pickles. She made those pickles once a year. She had that container of turmeric when I was a little kid, and she had the same container when I moved out of the house, It might have had flavor when she first got it, but it ran out of flavor long before she used it up. It still had color, though, so she never got rid of it.

Turmeric doesn't have a strong flavor. It's not going to punch you in the head. But it does have some flavor - sort of warm and mustardy, When it's used in Indian cooking, it's just one of many flavors and it definitely fades into the background. But when you omit those strong flavors, turmeric adds both color and flavor.

Well it adds flavor if your spice is fresh. That ten-year-old jar doesn't have any life left. Maybe it's time to toss that old jar and pick up a fresh one.

I made this rice in my rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stovetop, if you prefer.

Spicy Yellow Rice

1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
Water, as required
1 cup frozen spinach
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lime juice

Put the rice (two rice-cooker cups) in your rice cooker and add water to the level your rice cooker recommends. Add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cook per your rice cooker instructions for white rice.

Fluff the rice and stir to distribute the spinach in the rice. Add more lime juice, if you like. Serve warm.

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