Secret of cold rice salads is in the seasoning

Rice salads have been lurking in the pages of classic French cuisine forever, but the American table has been resisting them. The past few summers have been a festival of macaroni salads, but the concept of a cold rice grain has for some reason not been popular.

The late Dionne Lucas, an extraordinary cooking teacher and culinary martinet , was a bosster for rice salad. She'd julienne the carrots and green beans, toss them in with the rice, and carry on much as the European chefs. Her repoertoire was always ful of complicated touches -- cornets of cold ham filled with fois gras, for instance. And while she filled the pastry bag and paused to stir the chilling aspic, she'd tell how poor her family was when she was small and how her mother did many fine things with rice.

I always tune in when a good cook mentions ways to outwit poverty. OPccasionally, working about with ingredients like lump cab meat or rack of lamb will bring back a thrigty memory out of sheer guilt.

To appeal to Americans, rice salad must perfom more duties than a convenient platform for something else. The trick is to have plentt of flavor, in the same way aromatic and colorful vegetable are added to cold macaroni salad. Proportions are important, not just a few cubes carrots and green beans, but at least 1 1/2 cups of extra ingredients to 2 cups of rice, and sometimes more.

Most rice salad recipes I've seen call for 2 cups of chilled cooked rice. Chilled rice grains are fine for friend rice, but not for a salad. You'll find your finished salad more flavorful if you serve it at room temperature. The following recipes will wait patiently in the refrigerator for a day, but they are at their best when eaten the day they are made.

To ensure a starch-free grain, wash the raw rice until the water runs clear. Some Chinese recipes say it take 7 bowls of water to rinse a cup of rice, the kind of detail that makes their instructions so charming. Also, 7 times proves to be absolutely accurate. But a litte gumminess isn't all bad. Fruited Rice Salad 1 cup long grain rice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 lemon, juice and grated rind 1/2 teaspoon curry powder 1/2 cup sour cream 1/4 cup mayonnaise 1 8-ounce can pineapple chunks 1 cup seedless green grapes 1 medium banana cut in 1/2-inch slices and halved Boston lettuce

Any combination of fruit can be used to fill 3 cups. The more colorful the better. Cook rice in 2 cups of water with salt 14 minutes. Fluff with a fork and pile loosely in a large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and allow to come to room temperature.

Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, and curry powder in a small bowl. Separate rice grains with a fork, add fruit and dressing, and toss with two forks until ingredients are well distributed. Line salad bowl with leaves of Boston lettuce and arrange fruited rice salad in a shallow dome. Serves 4 as a main dish or many more as part of a buffet. Green Rice Salad 1 cup long grain rice 1/2 teaspoon salt 2-3 cup Italian dressing made from mix 3 scallions, thinly sliced, including green 1 medium green pepper, seeded, diced 1 10-ounce box frozen green peas, briefly cooked 1 medium unpeeled cucumber, seeded, diced 1/2 cup chopped parsley Romaine lettuce

You may substitute your own vinegar-and-oil dressing for the mix.

Cook rice in 2 cups water with salt 14 minutes. Fluff with a fork and pile loosely in a large bowl. Sprinkle with about half the dresssing and allow to come to room temperature.

Separate grains of rice with a fork, add vegetables and remaining dressing, and toss to distribute ingredients evenly.

Pile leaves of Romaine one on top of the other and cut crosswise to make lettuce ribbons about 1/4-inch wide. You will need about 2 cups. Arrange lettuce in a serving dish and top with green rice salad. Serve as an accompaniment to cold meat or fish. Serves 6 to 8. Tuna Rice Salad 1 cup long grain rice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 envelope instant chicken broth 2 cans solid-pack tuna in oil 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup plain yogurt 2 tablespoon oil from tuna 2 tablespoon dill pickle juice 2 large stalks celery finely diced Scallions thinly sliced including green tops 2 small cooked zucchini cut in 1/2-inch dice 1/2 cup minced parsley

Tuna may be replaced with 2 cups diced cooked chicken, or 2 cups cooked flaked fish, or 2 cups commercially bought ham salad.

Cook rice in 2 cups water and salt in covered pan 14 minutes. Fluff with a fork and pile loosely in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the instant chicken broth, fluff again, and allow to come to room temperature.

Drain tuna, reserving 2 tablespoons of oil for the dressing, and flake into a medium-size bowl. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, tuna oil, and pickle juice. Add celery, scallion, zucchini, and half the dressing to cooled rice and toss.

Add remaining dressing to the tuna and toss. Arrange rice mixture in serving bowl and flatten the top. Arrange tuna over rice and sprinkle with parsley. Serve to 4 or 6 as a summer dinner. Summer Risotto 1 cup long grain rice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 small clove garlic, minced (optional) 1 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped 3 scallions, finely chopped including green leaves 2 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped if very large 1/2 cup pitted black olives, preferably Greek 2 ounces Genoa salami, cut in julienne strips 6 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 tablespoon cide vinegar 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup minced parsley

Cook rice in 2 cups water with salt in covered pan 14 minutes. Fluff with a fork and pile loosely in a large bowl. Immediately add garlic, tomatoes, scallion, capers, black olives, and salami. Combine next four ingredients and beat until well combined. Add half to the risotto and toss to distribute ingredients evenly. Bring to room temperature.

Toss with remaining dressing, sprinkle with parsley, and serve to 4 as a main course, or to more as part of a buffet.

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