Do Your Wash Your Rice?

Soft Diet Salves and Assorted Kitchen Notes

Despite my speedy typing, there's never enough time to answer all of the questions submitted in my weekly chat. Here's one left in the queue that needs immediate assistance.

Washington, DC writes: I am on a "soft diet" after having oral surgery, and I am going to scream if I have to eat another bowl of soup, plate of mashed potatoes, or smoothie/milkshake. Any recipes/suggestions?

Screaming is probably not a good idea after oral surgery, so let's nip that idea in the bud pronto. There are lots of options for food that goes down the hatch without the use of those recovering choppers.

Here's what springs to mind:

A bowl of hummus, my solution to many a culinary conundrum. A puree of chickpeas seasoned with tahini paste, garlic and lemon juice takes all of seven minutes in a food processor and will bring you out of your smooothie-induced madness. As for accompaniments, perhaps small, torn-up pieces of pita bread would be manageable. There's a healthy dose of protein here, from both the chickpeas and tahini.

If chickpeas don't excite, consider pureeing a can of white beans instead. Season with garlic, olive oil, herbs of your choice (I'm partial to rosemary here), cayenne, salt and pepper. This is another easy-breezy lapper-upper easy on the orifice.

For veggie variations on the puree idea, consider baba ghanouj, a common hummus companion on the Middle Eastern mezze platter. Roast a halved eggplant (still available at local markets!) until beyond tender, then puree in and season with tahini, garlic and lemon juice.

Another roast-worthy summer veg that likes being pureed is the zucchini, which transforms beautifully into a bowl of zuke-a-mole.

All of the above pureed dips are best served cold or at room temperature, so if temperature is an issue, consider a bowl of steaming dal, the generic word in Indian cuisine for cooked legumes. I'm thinking of smaller, easier to digest varieties such as mung beans, black urad or yellow split peas, but without a tried-and-true recipe, I'm going to refrain from posting until I get back into the kitchen.

Got a favorite dal recipe to share that would make life more pleasant for this recovering reader or for any of us hankering for a bowl of the good life? Please share in the comments area below.

Also on my mind is rice. To wash or not to wash?

This week, while testing a recipe in my new wok, I was faced with the challenge of washing my rice, something I typically refrain from doing. Cookbooks from rice-centric cuisines around the world, including the Middle East, Japan, China and Southeast Asia, tend to emphasize washing rice, a step this American cook never learned along the way.

The recipe in question (which I plan to report on in coming days) is Mandarin, and so I decided to honor the tradition of washing my rice before cooking. Essentially, I rinsed the rice six or eight times, until the water on top was clear. I could see how the cloudiness from the starch would dissipate with each rinse.

All these years, I've never had issues with rice, an ingredient that trips up many cooks. Along the way, I've learned to add less liquid, taking a page from Asian cooks, but without the time-honored grain washing.

I can't believe what I've been missing. Washing the rice separates the grains and gives them a little extra wiggle room to play on your tongue. My rice of yesteryear was a heap of sticky mush compared to this stuff! The new way brought a new level of finesse to a simple bowl of rice, and the difference, well, it made all the difference in the world.

What do you think? Should the rice cook bother to wash or not? I'd love to hear the grainy consensus.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 13, 2006; 12:22 PM ET Kitchen Musings
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Kim, you're the first person who ever explained WHY to wash rice. Now I may actually try this too.

Posted by: John | September 13, 2006 2:09 PM

I wash my rice and have since I learned that you could (haha). Spot on, as it does make a big difference in texture and even in taste - to me it has a slightly less chalky quality.

Posted by: Kristian | September 13, 2006 2:16 PM

I only recently started washing the rice before cooking. Mostly been using basmati, and before doing that the grains tended to clump together. Between washing and using only 1.5 / 1 ratio of water to rice it's really helped.

Posted by: William | September 13, 2006 2:17 PM

I never washed white rice but will give it a whirl and see what the difference is. But I always wash brown rice. I didn't once and there was all sorts of brown scum on top so I threw out the whole pot.

Posted by: Julie | September 13, 2006 2:19 PM

I have always washed my rice. But this may be because I grew up around the Asian culture and I have never known otherwise. Try making congee now that you have learned about washing rice. Congee is a great soft food and it is rice. Yummy!!! I love rice any way I can get it.

Posted by: Mia | September 13, 2006 2:19 PM

I washed rice as a kid (my dad found a can't-miss recipe in a Chinese cookbook) but gave it up (for white rice, at least) because I'd heard repeatedly that it washes away all the nutrients that they stick back in after processing (i.e., when they enrich the rice after un-enriching it).

Posted by: ArlVa | September 13, 2006 2:26 PM

Wash the rice to remove the talc coating that is often on it. There is a taste difference.

Soak for 30 minutes to make the grains softer before cooking. Don't know why, but the texture is different if you soak rice 30 minutes before you actually turn the rice cooker on.

And if your readers need a reminder, don't open the pot while the rice is steaming. It makes the steam escape and changes the texture. I watched in horror as a gaijin friend stirred cooking rice for dinner. I explained the toasty crust on the bottom of the pot is for sprinkling with sugar and eating for a snack after dinner.

Posted by: mapgirl | September 13, 2006 2:27 PM

Like ArlVa, I had heard that it washes away all the nutrients and figured I'd compromise a little on taste rather than a lot on nutrition. But is it true or just a rumor? If I'm only losing a small amount of nutrients washing it may be worth it! Anyone have more info?

Posted by: Ms L | September 13, 2006 2:48 PM

I have not washed rice, but will try it. Does it make a difference if I use a rice cooker?

Posted by: McLean | September 13, 2006 2:56 PM

I have always washed my rice and always used a rice cooker as well. You might as well wash it, because it tastes better that way and you KNOW that white rice is not a superfood anyway! Take a vitamin and eat some Fiber One for breakfast! Mapgirl, you must not be from Japan. Sugar on rice -- the first time I told my Japanese friends about that they were HORRIFIED! Or maybe my little snack caught on and I am a trendsetter!!! I learned how to cook rice in Japan, which is why I always wash it. The rice cooker instructions --or maybe it is on the bags of rice--will tell you not to wash it. Ignore that bad advice!

Posted by: ricewasher | September 13, 2006 3:15 PM

I only cook Basmati becasue my wife and I liek its nutlike flavor and what I get comes fron India. It has talc on it which I really don't want to eat, so I always rinse it. It takes 1-3/4 cup water to 1 cup rice.

Posted by: JohnB | September 13, 2006 3:44 PM

There are several reasons to wash rice: cleanliness and uniformity (check for other seeds and especially small rocks that occasionally show up), removing drying agents, and reducing surface starch. There's also one reason not to--enriched rice has added nutrients that will be washed away. But anyone on a reasonable diet needn't worry about the last item; these are token nutrients added to supplement diets of people who rely on rice as a staple food and don't get proper nutrition otherwise.

Making your rice separate is NOT a reason to wash rice, at least when making Asian foods. Asian rice is SUPPOSED to stick together. The notion that all rice is supposed to be separate is a myth perpetrated by the Uncle Ben's marketing crowd. Rice-centric cuisines, for the most part, are eaten with chopsticks. For this to work the rice must clump together. No, it shouldn't be a heap of sticky mush, but it should be something you can manipulate well with chopsticks, and definitely not the separate stuff that you see in the Uncle Ben's commercials.

For rice balls and dishes requiring extra sticky rice, try sticky (glutinous) rice. Requires chewing, though.

I grew up in an Asian environment and have always washed my rice, and never striven to make it separate.

Posted by: aeschylus | September 13, 2006 3:59 PM

I am persuaded to wash my rice from now on. How does one wash rice?

Posted by: Lawyer Chick | September 13, 2006 4:54 PM

Put it in a pot, add water, swirl it around gently with your fingers for 5-10 seconds, dump the water. Repeat this until the dumped water is pretty much clear; this may take 5-10 passes. Overall it only takes a minute or two. Be sure to inspect the rice as you swirl it.

Posted by: aeschylus | September 13, 2006 5:04 PM

My grandmother is Japanese and we grew up eating only "sticky" rice. We used to wash it, but we don't any more. My Dad told me recently that the rice used to have talc powder in it and that's why we needed to wash it.

Posted by: japanese rice | September 13, 2006 5:12 PM

On Spanish international cable channel, TVE, they explained that there are 2 distinct types of rice in this world: the long-grained Indian variety, that will tend to remain separate when cooked because of its harder shell, and the short-grained Chinese variety, that will lump together because it soaks up more liquid. The shor-grained rice is best for meals like paella, "the national dish of Spain"; the long-grained is best for accompanying beans, as in "moros" (rice mixed with black beans) "the national dish of Cuba". But washing? My wife has nevered washed her rice in forty+ years yet she and I grew up in rice-washing latinamerica. And I have always preferred her long-grained unwashed rice cooked with 1 1/2-to-1, salt and a tbsp of olive oil. A comer!

Posted by: Javier | September 13, 2006 5:35 PM

The white powder is talcum powder.... that's the same stuff that athletes use on their hands before doing gymnastics.

Wash it.

Unless of course you're using something like Uncle Ben's. That stuff comes ready to use, but tastes very bland. I usually get mine from asian ethnic food stores that sells rice in large 20 lbs bags.

Posted by: anon | September 13, 2006 5:38 PM

In the US, washing rice hasn't been necessary. Shirley Corriher in CookWise says it's "a good idea with rice that may contain many impurities but American rice which is of very high quality doesn't require this..."

Posted by: Patti | September 13, 2006 5:46 PM

I'm Indian and my mother taught me to wash my rice until the water runs clear. She said it helps keep the grains separate.

Posted by: Little Red | September 13, 2006 5:48 PM

grew up washing rice and still do. we were always taught to wash but not to overwash

as aeschylus posted,

Put it in a pot, add water, swirl it around gently with your fingers for 5-10 seconds, dump the water. Repeat this until the dumped water is pretty much clear; this may take 5-10 passes. Overall it only takes a minute or two. Be sure to inspect the rice as you swirl it.

i wash twice or thrice as not to wash off all the nutrients. and there is really no need to soak rice, it is the quality/strain of the rice you purchased and the amount of water you've added (which takes a few tries to perfect)to get wet, mushy, dry or perfect rice.

Posted by: jj | September 13, 2006 6:36 PM

I grew up in the rural Philippines, eating homegrown rice. My mother always washed rice, as I do now, and even the homegrown variety (definitely no talc) will make the water milky on the first and second pass.

I wash only twice. If I'm cooking soup or a broth, I will use the water from the second wash. It adds flavor.

These days I buy Thai jasmine rice, always looking for the newest crop. This is usually the top grade rice in an Asian grocery. I would buy Thai rice even if I could get my dad's homegrown rice. It has the best flavor and consistency of any rice I have ever eaten -- even my dad agrees.

Mushy American rice, I'm sorry, is a joke to any Asian who grew up eating the real thing.

Coooking rice is easy: get a good rice cooker, and buy quality rice! No burning, ever, if you follow directions. Just perfect rice all the way to the bottom of the pot.

Posted by: DJF | September 13, 2006 7:10 PM

There are actually three types of rice--short, medium and long. I rinse long-grain rice but never medium--those are risotto rices and you want the starch to hang around. I use short grain for sushi and pudding and rinse it very briefly, in a strainer.

Posted by: dynagirl | September 13, 2006 8:00 PM

If you date an asian person, like I do, you simply HAVE to wash the rice if you're making dinner for the person you love. Otherwise, over dinner, they'll look at you in THAT WAY -- that combination of disgust and pity that makes you worry you're about to get dumped. Believe me, screwing up the rice is definitely a dumpable offense.

Posted by: Christopher | September 13, 2006 8:03 PM

I like to use good basmati, and add a few tablespoons of flaked coconut (plain dry flaked coconut; not the sugary stuff).

No need for a rice cooker, though they are handy. Without one, bring rice and water to a gentle boil, then cover and reduce flame to lowest possible setting. Cooking time and water/rice ratio vary with the variety. For typical long grain, start with a 1:1 ratio and cook 20-30 minutes after reducing the flame. Basmati wants more water and takes longer.

To measure a 1:1 ratio, just poke your finger to the bottom of the pot and use your thumb to mark the top of the rice on your thumb, then move the tip of your finger to the top of the rice and add water until it reaches your thumb.

If you're not sure whether the rice is cooked, you can take a sample if you are very quick and don't open the lid too far. Just crack the lid, dart in with a fork and grab a bit off the top. Taste it and make sure it isn't toothy. If it's okay the rice is cooked, but if there's too much water you may need to cook off the excess. A glass pot, or even a regular pot with a glass lid, is handy.

Posted by: aeschylus | September 13, 2006 8:51 PM

I too was trained not to wash rice (i.e., preserve the nutrients). Then, I had to do some research on rice that included how it is transported.

They fumigate it to kill bugs, and the chemicals stay in the rice. (You do not see any bugs in your rice, do you. That is because the chemicals are still in your rice!)

Wash your rice! Always!

Now, I have an Aisian wife, who is a real expert on cooking rice. Wash your rice.

Posted by: Aaron | September 13, 2006 8:54 PM

RE: Soft Diet for oral surgery/braces/pallet expander:
My son had all 4 wisdom teeth out, then braces on the next week, followed by pallet expander. His diet consisted of Knorr Alfredo, pancakes, cheese ravioli, pierogies, fish, cottage cheese & noodles, tuna noodle casserole, soups, muffins, ground beef dishes (after awhile he was able to chew this)...soft breads (no toast!)...and he thrived on mashed potatoes, soft tacos and chicken (when he was able to chew some) but NO meats like steak or pork or lamb, no sandwiches (too hard to bite into, other than p'nut butter/jelly, tuna, egg salad). He also had quiche, yogurt and corned beef (tender and easy to chew)...

Posted by: Veronica Gliniak | September 13, 2006 10:09 PM

To the previous poster:
Asian rice is not all sticky rice. It depends on which part of Asia you come from. In Japan and Korea and perhaps certain parts of China, sticky rice is the norm (perhaps to facilitate eating with chopsticks?). In Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, we like non-sticky rice (usually jasmine rice from Thailand). And yes, we do wash rice. The cloudy water is usually saved and used for watering the garden. Boy, do those vegetables grow!

Posted by: Tokay | September 13, 2006 10:58 PM

I don't think you can really get a consensus from all Middle Easterners, Americans, East and South Asians on what is the "right" way to do rice. Some folks like it soft and mushy (my very Asian father prefers it this way), others like separate grains, some like it sticky but firm, and so on. I have members from a number of different countries and regions in my family and no one really agrees on how to do rice. Suffice it to say that at family gatherings there are multiple pots going.

Posted by: rice | September 14, 2006 12:04 AM

Bear in mind the context of this discussion: the author was making rice to go along with something to be cooked in a wok. Also, people typically distinguish "Asian" food from, say, "Indian" food, even though India is part of Asia. And Thais like both sticky and non-sticky rice. The classic Thai dessert, after all, is sticky rice with mango.

Posted by: aeschylus | September 14, 2006 11:52 AM

Don't be snobby about American rice. The vast majority of rice consumed in Japan is grown in California.

Posted by: Rita | September 14, 2006 12:59 PM

I used to wash the bejeezus out of the rice--because Mom asked me to "wash the rice", and I didn't want to disappoint. Then I heard of the perils of "overwashing" rice. Then a friend of mine who spent a year in Kyoto in the JET program told me she was taught to rinse rice twice, and no more.

I hadn't noticed that washing affected gloppiness, but that's perhaps just me. I rince two or three times just because I feel better about cooking it when I see the water's clear. Kind of like laundry.

Posted by: richard | September 14, 2006 2:35 PM

I've always been told that the plants that process the rice were not reliable and therefore you had to wash your rice before you cooked/ate it. My family is hawaiian-chinese and rice is our everyday staple. I would refuse to eat rice that wasn't washed.

Posted by: AnonM | September 14, 2006 5:13 PM

Funny that so many people should be so convinced that all Asian rice is sticky. Basmati, that most Asian of rice varieties, certainly isn't sticky.. unless you cook it badly! There are a number of other Indian varieties (ambemohar, for example) that run the gamut from short to long grain, sticky to nonsticky, but don't quite make it to restaurants in the West.

It's safe to say that the stickiness or the length of the rice should be chosen to match the dish it is eaten with. This is true of rice in Indian, Thai, Japanese, Spanish or US cuisine, and quite likely, in that of several other countries too.

I can never understand why the concept of "Asian" or "Indian" is so hard for people in the US to grasp. Is it really so hard to see the difference between Indians and native Americans (no, they're *not* Indian, unless you're an idiot named Columbus) and denizens of the East Indies (who, I assume, are called East Indians)? Or to realize that Asia is not China, Japan, and "Korea" (aka South Korea in the rest of the world), but stretches from Israel to Japan and from Siberia to the Maldives.

Posted by: Asian | September 14, 2006 5:47 PM

I grew up in Japan but am Chinese, so I'm intimately familiar with both short grain and long grain rice. Calling rice "sticky," or not, is misleading. I never NOT wash my rice, although there are new products in the Japanese markets that supposedly require no washing, at least not for reasons of cleanliness. You need to read the label. I can also buy rice with varyng percentages of brown rice mixed in, even though, when I was growing up, "white" was the standard. I do wash my rice because it results in a more uniform texture, moist but not gummy (whether the rice is short- or long-grain), but 2-3 rinsings is quite enough, not 8-10! I also let my rice sit in a collander for 30 minutes or so after rinsing. Elizabeth Andoh's recently released Washoku contains a good explanation of why rice for the Japanese table is rinsed.

Posted by: Sylvia | September 15, 2006 8:31 AM

I wash rice differently depending on how ssticky I want it to be. Otherwise it turns into a big sticky mess. I rinse it repeatedly (quickly) until the water gets clearer until it gets to the level I want (sometimes you want stickyier rice, sometimes you want rice that falls apart that you eat with a fork--rinse that until the water runs clear, not a big deal) with COLD water.

Put the rinsed rice into the bottom of a pan until it comes to your first finger joint on your pointing finger (I have nails so I flatten my finger and guesstimate a smidge)(cover joints) then pour cold water up to the second joint (this works for anyones joints) boil until the water makes pits (DO NOT STIR) and the water is just about empty at the bottom of the pits, turn the heat off put a tight fitting lid on and let steam (I have an electric stove, you with gas stoves, improvise) for 10-15 mins or until tender, leave it alone) no reason to buy a rice cooker really.

Posted by: ljb | September 18, 2006 2:08 PM

also, maybe things with lemon juice and vinegar might not be fun for a sore cut up mouth. When i had braces I lived on peas and corned beef hash as yucky as it sounds.

Posted by: ljb | September 18, 2006 2:10 PM

I have always washed my rice, esp after I went to India and saw how they store the rice. It's sitting on the floor! You have no idea what type of stuff is going on there!

Posted by: NB | September 19, 2006 2:01 PM

What about brown rice? do you wash it too?

Posted by: IGM | September 21, 2006 10:39 AM

I've washed rice since I learned how to make it. I saw my mother do this since I was a little girl, so I knew no different. Cooking one day with my boyfriend I notice that he did not washhis rice, and it bothered me, but it was too early in our relationship to "critize" his cooking ... so I didn't but I could tell the differnce right away. Let's just say that he's now learned to wash his rice!!!

Posted by: cg | September 21, 2006 1:25 PM

Hi I''m in Minnesota and I was having a nostalgic moment. Is there any way to find the recipe for the cupcakes we use to get from Woodies when we went shopping with my grandma? They were yellow cake, but the frosting was the thing 2-2.5 inches of rich chocolate with nuts!!! I loved that frosting. Thanks

Posted by: Teresa Chapman | September 27, 2006 12:24 PM

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