It took me 37 years to really start cooking white rice, and even then I felt guilty about it. Prior to cooking with white rice, I cooked so-called “whole grains”: quinoa, bulgur, brown rice.
I put “whole grains” in quotes not because I doubt these things are, technically, whole grains, but because I’m beginning to take issue with just how “whole” these grains should make us feel. I have nothing against the fiber and nutrients that are present in these grains. However, I’m beginning to suspect that the histrionics around whole grains are not in sync with the marginal nutritional benefits.
But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about white rice and guilt. For people like me, the two go hand in hand. I felt guilty about eating white rice, because it was, well, white, and thus void of all nutrition. Why this should bother me is a mystery—I eat white flour all the time in scones, muffins, cakes, cookies, pies, and toast. I don’t think twice about. But when it came to rice, I was suddenly Dr. Weil.
And so I forced myself to cook brown rice, which was a short-lived experiment, because brown rice does not taste good, and so I stopped cooking it. Then I moved on to quinoa, but this too was short-lived, because here’s the thing: quinoa also does not taste good. It also smells weird.
That left me with red rice, which I love for its earthiness and its chew, and some other whole grains like bulgur, barley, and farro. In a grain bowl or grain salad, I love all of these—I particularly love the way roasted root vegetables taste on a bed of hearty, chewy grains.
But other situations were just upsetting. A big spoonful of inky black beans is one of my favorite things in the world to cook and eat—until it is spooned over red rice. Black beans and whole grains are like Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise: one is sophisticated and decadent, the other is all hype from a weird cult, and the two were never, ever meant to be together.
But the guilt! I couldn’t shake the feeling that eating a bowl of white rice would put me into some sort of carbohydrate-induced shock, that I may as well be eating dessert. Blame this on Dr. Atkins or my rice-free Ohio childhood. Whatever the reasons, I stayed on that whole grain train.
Then I started cooking curries.
Man, if you think a pot of Mexican-style black beans is incongruous with barley, just wait until you try to put a Thai green curry over farro, or an Indian-inspired coconut curry over brown rice, or, I don’t know, some dal (not a curry, I know, calm down) over, what, polenta? Really dude? What’s next—a scoop of ice cream in a lettuce cup?
I’m screaming at myself here, because I did (or at least considered doing) those things. And I’m here to tell you that if you’re an idiotic American like me with similar thoughts, get ready to get on your hands and knees at the Indian consulate, because they do not want your ridiculous ass visiting.
Luckily, the curries woke me up to the deep pleasures of white rice. The congruity with curries—the soft contrast to crunchy vegetables, the way it soaks in a curry’s flavors—quickly convinced me to accept what most of the world already knew: that white rice is profoundly delicious and deeply nourishing.
It’s been a couple of months since I really embraced white rice, and the more I cook it for myself, the less guilty I feel. Today I’m in the place that rice lovers had told me about—the place where I see white rice as craveable comfort food. Now I eat salted, buttered white rice straight from the pot, and I feel instantly happy. Am I missing out on some of the nutrients of brown rice? Definitely. But with brown rice, I was missing out on the pleasure. Which is worse?