Brown rice: a smart side

Eat for life

February 07, 2007|By Jill Wendholt Silva | Jill Wendholt Silva,McClatchy-Tribune

Side dishes can make or break a diet. So when it comes to making smart choices, a veteran restaurant critic I know offers this rule of thumb: Never eat a starch unless it is "out of the ordinary."

That effectively eliminates most mashed potatoes, french fries, pastas and white rice - largely empty carbohydrates with low nutritional value and just average flavor.

What's left?

Brown rice, whose chewy texture can break up mealtime monotony and boost nutrition.

The government recently advised Americans to eat three servings daily of whole grains, which have been linked to a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The bran covering on brown rice gives it more protein, fiber and iron than white rice. Brown rice is also higher in trace elements such as selenium, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

"I think people are really hearing the message," says Katie Brown, president of the Kansas City Dietetic Association. "Eat whole grains instead of bread. It's a great, easy way to get fiber."

Brown rice also has more flavor than white rice. "It has that nutty flavor that means you're satisfied more on less," Brown says. "And if you fill up more on sides, you'll eat less of the main entree, which is usually meat."

This Brown-Rice Pilaf takes on a Mediterranean flair after you stir eggplant and cherry tomatoes into the mix. Although eggplant typically soaks up a lot of oil, the recipe achieves a rich taste with only a modest amount of oil.

Cook the eggplant cubes with the skin on, and you'll retain more water-soluble nutrients.

Brown-Rice Pilaf

Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings

4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4 -inch cubes

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 to 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium heat; add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened but not beginning to brown. Add garlic and cumin and cook 30 seconds. Add brown rice and cook over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes or until rice begins to brown slightly.

Add water and stir to mix well. Add salt and pepper and bring rice mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 40 minutes or until rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently until tender, about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are heated through and liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside until rice is cooked.

Gently stir eggplant mixture into the cooked rice along with the fresh herbs. Carefully blend ingredients. Sprinkle with pine nuts before serving.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 251 calories, 12 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams protein, 188 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber

Recipe and analysis provided by the Kansas City Star.

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