Rice is a budget-friendly pantry staple, grown in abundance and not usually affected by rising food costs like other cooking ingredients. The grain can be purchased in large quantities and incorporated into recipes for minimal cost, which can help families stretch their grocery budget.
Chef Nick Wallace, Top Chef: Houston contestant and owner of Nick Wallace Culinary, says he learned early on in his career about the value of rice. "In culinary school, they would always say you need rice on your menu," he tells Yahoo Life. "It is a staple of cooking in African cultures and Indian cultures — it goes a long way."
Wallace grew up in Edwards, Miss., where he says he was introduced to the kitchen by his grandparents. Today, one of the chef's passions is giving back to his childhood community. "A lot of the people in the communities in Mississippi look like me," he says. "They are people of color. I knew that was something that would allow me to go into those communities and really connect with people."
Wallace's desire to connect with and support his community (and appreciation for rice) recently lead to a partnership with Ben's Original. He's currently promoting the brand's Be an After-School Hero program. Through the partnership, he'll be visiting Greenville, Miss. communities to share rice's versatility and budget-friendly nature through cooking demonstrations and educational sessions.
"Rice is just like a canapé," says Wallace. "You can look at rice, in a sense, like French bread. You can take it anywhere that you want. I want to show families how versatile and how easy and quick it is so they will be encouraged to go home and cook the recipe themselves or be the star of their own kitchen and create wonderful dishes."
So what's a professional chef's best tip for cooking rice? "Follow the directions," he says. "Use a pot on the stovetop and use measuring cups, don't eyeball it." He says choosing the right type of rice to pair with a dish is essential. "Depending on what you're making, I would use brown rice for, say, a soup because it holds up better. For Jasmine rice, it's super soft and fluffy; I would use it in a salad. It can stand up to all the lighter things," he explains.
One of Wallace's favorite recipes to make with rice is Dirty Rice, a Cajun-inspired dish with pork, beef and sautéed vegetables. He's also created unique recipes like Wild Rice Meatballs — where rice is used as a filler to bulk up beef meatballs — and a Brown Rice and Apple Salad.
For Wallace, cooking with rice is the perfect way to make a difference to communities he cares about: "I want people to know how important the work is that Ben's Original is doing with No Kid Hungry," he shares. "For every $1 spent on a Ben's Original product until Oct. 8, Ben's Original will donate up to $250,000."
"Restauranteurs know that translates to 2.5 million meals for kids," he adds, "which is huge."
Looking for a unique rice-based dish to prepare in your own kitchen? Wallace shares graciously his easy recipe for Brown Rice and Apple Salad.
Brown Rice and Apple Salad
Courtesy of Nick Wallace and Ben's Original
6 cups Ben's Original Ready Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice
2 pink lady or red apples, cored and diced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
3 stalks green onion, whites removed and thinly sliced
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large or 2 medium lemons)
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook rice according to package instructions. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine until everything is mixed and well-coated in the dressing.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
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