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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Playing around with versatile Rice

Rice is a way of life for many here in Arkansas. Though cotton is the main commodity crop, many farms in the Delta grow rice, making Arkansas the largest rice producing state in the country. I have had the pleasure of cooking rice directly from a farm. It was some of the best rice I have ever eaten.

Often used as a side dish, rice is a staple in most kitchens. In Louisiana, rice is often incorporated into entrées. Jambalaya is a great example. The neutral flavor of rice allows it to absorb the flavors and seasonings that are used in the cooking process. One of the easiest ways of incorporating flavor into rice is by using stock or broth instead of water to cook.

Today, I am sharing 2 recipes using already cooked rice, Seafood Dirty Rice and Eggplant and Rice Dressing. These dishes are plays on Rice Dressing or as we call it in New Orleans Dirty Rice.

This recipe is from the dean of Cajun cooking, Paul Prudhomme. Not many people would have thought to replace the meat in dirty rice with seafood. This version elevates dirty rice from a side dish to an entrée.

Seafood Dirty Rice

1 1/2 pounds small Shrimp, peeled

2 tablespoons Butter

1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil

1/2 cup Tomato Sauce

3 tablespoons Onions, minced

2 1/2 tablespoons Green Bell Pepper, minced

2 tablespoons Celery, minced

1 teaspoon Garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon White Pepper

1 teaspoon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon Cayenne

1 1/2 cups Shrimp or Seafood Stock

1/2 cup Heavy Cream

3 1/2 cups Coked Rice

3/4 cup Green Onions, thinly sliced

1 cup (about 1/2 pound) Lump Crabmeat, picked thru for shells

In a large skillet, melt butter. Add the tomato sauce, onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, salt, white pepper, thyme and cayenne; sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock and continue cooking over high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and simmer about 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer 3 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rice, green onions and crabmeat, keeping the lumps of crabmeat intact as much as possible. Heat through and serve immediately.

Eggplant was one of my mother’s favorite ingredients. Her eggplant dressing is still often included at family get togethers during the holidays. This take on a traditional New Orleans Dirty Rice (Rice Dressing) may become a staple at your festive gatherings.

Eggplant and Rice Dressing

1 large Eggplant, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon Salt

2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil

1 cup Onions, chopped

1/2 cup Grey Bell Pepper, chopped

1 pound Ground Meat

4 cups cooked Long-Grain Rice, kept warm

1/4 cup Chicken Stock or Broth

1/3 cup fresh Parsley, chopped

Creole Seasoning to taste

Put eggplant in a bowl of water and add salt. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cool water. Pat dry on paper towels.

In a large heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add eggplant, stirring often, and cook for about 10 minutes or until softened. Add onions and bell peppers and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add ground beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is brown and no longer pink. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer fo 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add rice, and stir to mix. Add chicken stock if the mixture becomes dry. Season with Creole seasoning and serve warm.

To make each dish your own, add stock or seasonings while you are cooking the rice. You may never cook rice with just water and salt again. Eat lots of rice and support the Arkansas farmers.

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