On one of our weekend food treks, hubby and I headed to East San Jose in search of egg rolls and banh mi. Right in front of the entrance to the market was a display of different dried pastas on sale including tiny little pasta shaped like letters. Woohoo! Haven’t seen pasta letters in ages. When the kids were little I would make rice pilaf using alphabet pasta. The kids loved it and called it “letter rice.” They would spell their names and challenge each other on how many words they came up with on their plates during meals. We were totally bummed when our market stopped carrying our beloved alphabet pasta. A search of other markets came up empty so I resorted to using star and rice shaped pasta. Not the same, but a good life lesson for my kiddies..you can’t always get what you want. I’m kidding of course.
I took a picture of the display with my phone and sent it to the kids with the exclamation “LETTERS!” then I bought a couple of bags (ok, more than a couple) to have on hand for when they come home.
Letter rice is a fusion of rice pilaf and Hainanese Chicken Rice, a Singaporean dish of poached chicken and rice. The broth from the poached chicken is used to cook the rice for a double flavor whammy. The rice is first sautéed with the Asian trinity of garlic, ginger and onions, tossed in a rice cooker (because I don’t know how to cook rice any other way) and cooked with the reserved stock.
IT IS STUPID EASY. Maybe not as easy as making plain rice but for little effort you can jazz up your rice making it delicious and fun to eat. Kid tested, kid approved.
Mains that aren’t “saucey” begs for letter rice as an accompaniment. Favorite meals with letter rice in our house are barbecued ribs or chicken, grilled fish and STEAK. Yum.
Like many of the recipes I post this one lends itself well to changes. The Asian trinity can be tweaked. Onions can be replaced by shallots, you can use all garlic and omit the ginger and onions. Having steak? Use beef stock instead of chicken. Vegetarian? Use mushroom or vegetable stock instead. I throw in dried mushrooms to intensify the flavor. You can use all rice and skip the letters (auugh, why would you skip the cute shaped pasta), it all works.
The recipe is pretty easy to remember. For every cup of uncooked rice I use 1 fat clove of garlic (or 2 skinny ones), 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ginger, and 1/2 shallot. For each cup of rice or pasta I use 1 tablespoon butter or oil. Saute’ the aromatics first, when they begin to brown add the pasta and rice. Watch your garlic carefully, do not let it burn or it will be bitter.
The quirky part of this recipe is I only know how to cook rice in a rice cooker (I should be embarrassed-I am). I use the cup that comes with the rice cooker to measure my rice but a standard 1 cup measure for the pasta. For 2 cups of rice I use 1 cup of pasta and fill the rice cooker with stock up to the 3 cup line. Yep. Easy peasy if you have a rice cooker…
- 2 cups long grain or basmati rice (measured in standard cup that comes with the rice cooker, its equivalent to 3/4 cup
- 1 standard measuring cup any small shaped pasta, stars, letters, acini de pepe, or orzo
- 3 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil or 50/50 of each
- 3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped (garlic lovers or those living among vampires feel free to increase the amount of garlic)
- 1 shallot, finely chopped (or 1/4 yellow onion or 1 green onion green and white parts, finely chopped)
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- Homemade or low sodium chicken broth (can substitute beef or vegetable stock) approximately 3-4 cups
- 1/2 to 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup dried sliced shiitakes or dried mushroom mix (optional)
- green onions
- cilantro leaves
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Melt butter or oil in pan
- When butter is fully melted add garlic, shallots and ginger and saute' over medium heat until garlic begins to brown.
- Add pasta and rice to pan. Stir to coat rice and pasta with oil thoroughly.
- Put rice and pasta mixture in rice cooker and fill to the three cup line. If using dried mushrooms add them at this point.
- Set to cook and you're done!
Back from school for the summer, Jordan requested “char Siu” style barbecued ribs and letter rice which prompted this post! Here is the marinade for the ribs. Grill over indirect heat for 25-30 minutes in a covered bbq. Flip and baste halfway through. Finish grilling by basting ribs with honey and cooking over direct heat to slightly char ribs. Flip racks often so they don’t burn!
I remember my mom yelling at my brother and me “STOP PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD, JUST EAT!” Where is the fun in that?