Grain of choice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Sometimes the simplest foods in life, the ones we take the most for granted, are the ones with the most complex history.

Rice is one of those. A bag of rice can be found in almost every Southern kitchen. Plain white rice, cooked so that every grain is fluffy and separate, has long been one of the first dishes learned in the Southern kitchen.

In my culinary upbringing perfect rice rated up there with well-risen biscuits and light cornbread. In other words, this where my family separates the &uot;girls from the women&uot; in the kitchen.

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The route of rice to the southern U.S. began thousands of years ago in Asia. This grain fed the multitudes there and began its global spread. It is believed that the first rice brought to North America came with the import of slaves to South Carolina.

People in the &uot;low-country&uot; area of South Carolina are still known to eat rice at all three meals. While very little rice is still grown in South Carolina, it proved to be an important addition to the Southern table.

Easy to grow and cheap to buy, rice became essential to the Southern diet. Even though many early Southern tables lacked meat to serve, they paired the grain with dried beans and peas. This combination unknowingly benefitted them. Because rice is high in complex carbohydrates when served with a protein it makes for a very healthy meal.

In this first recipe you have the classic pairing of dried peas with rice. This remains a popular dish in the Carolina’s and is a traditional New Year’s Day dish for good luck.

Hoppin’ John

1 cup dried black-eyed peas

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 cup diced smoked ham

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper

Sprig of fresh time or 1/4 teaspoon dried

thyme, optional

1 cup uncooked rice (long-grain)

Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or hot

pepper vinegar

Combine the black-eyed peas with six cups of water in a large saucepan. Add the onion, ham, cayenne, salt, pepper to taste and thyme, if using. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft but not mushy, about 1 1/2 hours.

Drain the cooking liquid from the peas into a large measuring cup. Save two cups of liquid to cook the rice. Discard any extra liquid or if needed add hot water to equal two cups.

Pour the liquid back into the peas. Add the rice to the pot, give it a quick stir, then cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Without lifting the lid, set aside to steam for 10 to 15 additional minutes. Fluff the mixture and serve immediately with hot pepper sauce.

Adapted from American Home Cooking

Red rice appears on virtually every menu in South and North Carolina and the coastal sections of Georgia. The cooking method used, the browning of the rice and then baking results in fluffy, separate grains with a pale red color from the tomatoes.

Charleston Red Rice

6 strips lean bacon

1 medium onion,


3 scallions, minced,

2 cups ripe tomatoes,

peeled, seeded and

coarsely chopped

1 cup uncooked long-grain rice

3/4 cup minced cooked ham

Salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On the top of the stove, heat a heavy cast-iron skillet, add the bacon strips and cook them until crisp. Remove the bacon strips and drain them on paper towels. Cook the onion and scallions in the remaining bacon fat until translucent. Crumble the bacon and add the bacon bits, tomatoes, and the remaining ingredients to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Place the seasoned rice and tomato mixture in a greased 1 1/2 quart ovenproof casserole dish. Adjust the seasoning, cover the dish and bake the red rice for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Adapted from Carolina Cuisine


Once you make this Cajun rice dish you will understand how it got its name. Regardless of appearance the flavor will keep you serving it for years to come.

Dirty Rice

2 chicken livers

6 chicken gizzards

1/2 vegetable oil

1/2 pound ground meat

1 large onion, chopped finely

1 bell pepper, chopped finely

3 ribs of celery, chopped finely

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups uncooked rice

4 green onions, chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Boil livers and gizzards until done, set aside. Saute ground meat in oil, breaking into small pieces, until brown. Add onion, bell pepper and celery to browned meat. Cook until vegetables are soft and translucent, not brown. Chop livers and gizzards very finely or chop in processor, then add to the meat mixture. Add the garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, bay leaves, thyme and broth to the meat mixture. Simmer for 30 minutes, remove the bay leaves and set aside. Cook rice until done but not soft, it should be firm. Add the rice in with meat mixture. Add chopped green onion and parsley. Let set for 10 minutes before serving. Freezes well.

Adapted from Cotton Country

Rice even manages to appear on the Southern dessert table in rice pudding. Many variations of this includes raisins and occasionally coconut. I prefer mine this way simple, creamy and comforting.

Rice Pudding

1 cup short-grained rice

1 quart milk

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart flat-bottomed baking dish.

Combine the rice and the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, butter and the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining nutmeg and remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. Bake until there is a light brown crust on top, about 50 minutes. Be careful not to overbake; the finished pudding should be creamy not dry.

Adapted from Good Old Food