Variety fills the world's rice bowl

Gone are the days when rice was synonymous with Uncle Ben. He now has plenty of company and competition on supermarket shelves. From arborio to jasmine to basmati and many more, those who are looking for alternatives to converted quick-cooking rice have plenty of options. Two shoppers taking full advantage of this are writers Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

The couple's travels around the world have revolutionized their relationship to rice. To them, it is no longer simply a common grain, but a highly versatile and flavorful staple.

In "Seductions of Rice" (Artisan Books, 1998, $35), the authors of the award-winning cookbook "Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas" explain: "We didn't grow up with rice, we came to know it through travel in Asia, like people who travel to France for the first time and there discover good cheese ... somewhere along the line we found ourselves hooked on rice."

At home in Toronto, Mr. Alford and Ms. Duguid's pantry is always stocked with several varieties of rice, some in bags as large as 20 pounds. "Our pantry looks like a United Nations banquet," they write, adding, "The most exotic food is rice."

Their two young boys devour rice with just as much gusto as they do. When Dominic and Tashi ask their parents what's for dinner, the response is more likely to be Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, or sushi than pizza or pasta. And they might finish off the meal with Oaxacan Rice Pudding.

Recipes for these dishes and many others can be found in their book. But "Seductions of Rice" is more than a collection of recipes. It takes readers on a culinary tour of the many rice-eating countries they have visited - China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and India, complete with personal anecdotes and evocative photographs.

To help home cooks navigate the rice world, they also provide tips for buying, cooking, and storing rice as well as a glossary of terms and a list of suppliers.

It's their hope that readers will also get hooked on rice - not just to accompany the occasional chicken dish, but as a dinnertime staple.

"Good rice is just like good bread," they write. "It always tastes real and it always sparks an appetite."

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