RICE: NOT JUST FOR MEALS
Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
Rice: Not Just for Meals. Other people in the world may have their wheat, rye, corn, potato, cassava, and taro, but Filipinos would not be Filipinos without their rice. Ask those who have lived abroad, and they will tell you that living in another country without rice is misery.
The late food columnist Doreen Fernandez said it right when she wrote: “If we did not have rice, our deepest comfort food, we would probably feel less Filipino.” After all, Filipinos eat rice, plant rice, worship rice, buy rice, promise rice, and even import rice.
Although rice is basically a complex carbohydrate, its protein contains all eight of the essential amino acids found in many other foods. Low in sodium and fat, with no cholesterol or gluten, it is a boon to weight worriers and those allergic to other grains. It is also low in fiber and easily digested.
Most of the white rice available in the market is enriched, which means, besides its other assets, it is also supplemented with iron, niacin, and thiamine. But most of these added nutrients are lost if rice is washed before cooking or drained afterward. Brown rice, with its healthful bran layers, contains all these nutrients naturally, plus fiber, oil, and vitamin E.
Rice “is the principal food for over 60 percent of mankind,” says the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It is particularly important to Asia, where over half of the world’s population lives. In fact, most of the rice is grown in this continent.
“Rice is the one thing that truly defines Asia,” said former IRRI Director-General Dr. Ronald Cantrell. In China and Korea, where elders recall times when food was hard to come by, some still greet each other with the question, “Have you had your rice today?”
Rice has devotees all over the world, according to the Reader’s Digest. The Italians have made their risoffos minor masterpieces. Spain’s paella, often with seafood, sausage, and chicken, is a traditional dish. Latin America’s arroz con polo (chicken with rice) is one of the best rice dishes anywhere.
The French riz pilafs, the Middle East’s pilafs, and India’s pulaus are classics served with all kinds of meat, poultry, and seafood. A popular Japanese dish is sushi, which is rice flavored with sweet vinegar and wrapped with fish, vegetables, or omelets in seaweed.
Indonesians set a whole table with rice and assorted goodies that go with the grain; the feast is called rijsttafel. The Chinese make cakes, noodles, paste, and potent wine from rice. They also make a marvelous “eight-treasure rice pudding” with dried fruits and nuts.
In the Philippines, rice is prepared in several ways – aside from being a regular fare in daily meals. Philippine Rice Centennial: Research and Development, a 500-page book published by the Philippine Rice Research Institute, documented some of these recipes.
Puto is touted to be one of the most important products derived from rice. “(Puto) is a leavened product resulting from the bacterial and yeast fermentation of galapong or slurry,” the book explains.
Here’s how puto is prepared: The rice is soaked for six to eight hours and then ground to make the slurry, which is allowed to ferment. Initial fermentation is by lactic acid bacteria, followed by yeast fermentation. If the slurry is too acidic, alkali is added to achieve the correct flavor. The slurry is then placed in a bamboo tray lined with cheesecloth and steamed. The flavor and product presentation are improved by the addition of shredded cheese and salted egg.
“The product has a short shelf life due to both microbial and physical changes, specifically retrogradation when refrigerated,” the book cautions.
Here are more recipes from the book:
Palitao. Drip-dried galapong is formed into small balls and then flattened, forming an oval-shaped dough. It is then placed in boiling water. It rises to the surface of the water cooked, hence the name palitao. It is served with sugar, grated coconut, and roasted linga or sesame seed.
Puto seko. This is a shelf-stable delicacy prepared from wet-milled, drip-dried rice flour. The moist flour is mixed with sugar, powdered milk, eggs, and margarine and then dried under the sun. The mixture is shaped by placing in molds called sumpitan to get the saucer shape. It is steamed and then placed in an oven to cook. It is wrapped in paper by tens before selling.
Pilipit. Drip-dried, wet-milled glutinous rice is mixed with grated young coconut and food color. Then it is shaped into long, slender strands and twisted into a figure 8 or a circle, like a pretzel or a doughnut. The formed dough is fried in oil and then dipped in caramel before serving.
Tinupig. A product native to the Ilocos Region, it is prepared from drip-dried rice flour mixed with coconut milk and molasses, then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted until cooked. When the mixture is roasted in a bamboo tube, the product is called tinubong, which is usually done in Isabela.
Kutsinta. This is prepared from a mixture of wet-milled waxy and non-waxy rice, lye, and atswete (annatoo) extract. The mixture is placed in molds and steamed for 15 minutes. Kutsinta is usually served with grated coconut meat and roasted sesame seed.
Bibingka. This is prepared in the same manner as puto but differs in the manner of cooking. The milled rice is allowed to ferment overnight. The next day, sugar is added to encourage yeast fermentation. If the mixture is too acidic, lye may be added to neutralize it.
To cook, a shallow clay pot is lined with banana leaves, and a cup of batter is added. A thin metal sheet with burning charcoal is placed on the top of the pot, while at the bottom, burning charcoal is maintained. The product is removed when the surface develops a golden-brown color. To serve, butter and grated coconut are added. Native cheese (kesong puti) and salted egg may be added as garnishing.