Too hot to cook? Almost no-cook harvest red rice salad

Ditch the wok this summer and try a rice salad tossed with fresh raw veggies. With just one pot of rice and a quick vinaigrette you can have a light lunch, a quick side, or a vegetarian dinner.

By , The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

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    Thai red rice is similar to brown rice, and has a nutty flavor. Find it at Asian markets, or substitute brown rice.
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Help! I’ve turned into my mother! As much as I love my mum, I’ve lived in fear that our bloodlines run so deep I was bound to inherit some of her “quirky” (yes, that’s a diplomatic term) traits sooner or later.

While I’ve managed to dodge Ma’s penchant for sucking in her breath every time the car brakes (an unfortunate habit learned over decades of being in the passenger seat while my dad is driving), or haggling with poverty-stricken market vendors in developing countries over 10 cents or some such paltry sum (seriously, my heart breaks every time I witness this injustice), like her, I am now a perpetual rice-eater.

No matter how much protein or how many potatoes I consume, if I don’t eat rice, I’m just not satisfied. Not to mention, my belly starts rumbling barely an hour later.

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Growing up, hot and fluffy rice took pride of place in the center of the dinner table, forming the blank canvas of my childhood palate. Plain white rice, usually jasmine, would be embellished by a stir-fry of bok choy and garlic, and turmeric fried chicken or spicy beef curry. The next day, any leftover rice was transformed into fried rice or thick rice porridge for breakfast.

Granted this rice-eating habit has followed me into adulthood, but when days are pushing 80 or 90 degrees F., the last place I want to be is in a smoldering hot kitchen. And so began my quest for no-cook – or as close to it as one can possibly get – rice recipes.

I’ve been inspired by visits to farmers’ markets, my favorite cookbook authors, and by experimenting with creative riffs on Asian favorites. The results were spectacular: a mound of rice studded with assorted seasonal vegetables, like gems, and seasoned with my favorite vinaigrette du jour; no-cook “fried” rice using the same ingredients but in different guises – grated carrots, shredded Chinese cabbage and crumbled hard-cooked eggs tossed with rice; rice cakes dipped in wasabi dressing, and the list goes on.

In the end, I’ve discovered several “out-of-the-wok” rice recipes to add to my repertoire, often saving the day when the pool, rather than the stove, beckoned.

Thank you, Ma, I owe you for this one!

Harvest red rice salad

Makes 4 salad servings, or 2 light lunch servings 

I’ve grown to love the reddish-brown hue of Thai red rice, some grains with the bran rubbed off to reveal the white beneath. The needle-thin grains are pretty to look at and have a pleasing chewy, nutty flavor. Thai red rice is unmilled (like brown rice) and takes longer to cook than polished rice like jasmine. However, because the grains are slender, they cook more quickly than other unmilled rices and use less water.

Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid to ensure the steam is retained in the pot during cooking. One cup raw rice yields about 3 cups cooked rice. Measurements and times vary according to rice type, so follow the package directions. Jasmine rice takes 15 to 18 minutes. Find red rice at Asian markets or specialty markets, or substitute brown rice.

1 cup Thai red rice

1-1/2 cups chicken stock or water

1/3 cup canola oil

1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice (about 2 large limes or 1 lemon)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon honey

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

2 green onions, using green parts only, chopped

1/2 green or red bell pepper, chopped 

1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Wash the rice well and drain. In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rice and stock. Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for 1 minute. Stir the rice to prevent sticking. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whirl the canola oil, lime juice, soy sauce, and honey in a blender until smooth to make the vinaigrette.

3. When done, fluff the rice with a fork and combine the rice and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, or refrigerate for later.

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