The latest installment in the Clean Plates series features rice, a staple food for about half the world's population. But not just any grain — this column honors organic, short-grain brown rice. Health-conscious cooks appreciate its benefits: brown rice retains the outer bran and germ, which are high in fiber and B vitamins. When brown rice is mixed with legumes (like beans), they form a complete protein. Plus it has a satisfying nuttiness and, thanks to the fiber, is pleasantly filling.
We spoke with chef and brown rice fan, Kuniko Yagi, who came to America with a finance background, then began her rising star culinary career at David Myers' Michelin-starred Sona restaurant in Los Angeles. She's poised to open his coming Silk Road-inspired hotspot this December. We caught up with Yagi mid-restaurant planning and dished with her about macrobiotics, pressure cookers and her favorite healthy ingredient.
What's your favorite ingredient á la minute?
It is brown rice. Very simple — I thought maybe it's too simple, but I've been cooking at home every day and I'm really into organic, short-grain brown rice. I'm Japanese and I used to do macrobiotics; I focused on healthy, vegetarian food. I love short-grain sushi rice.
When you eat brown rice, you have to buy organic because the bran outside of the rice (the skin), can be full of chemicals. It's not good to eat brown rice if it's not organic, because you're eating chemicals in the skin. That's the one thing to be cautious about.
[For the best texture] I soak the brown rice overnight in purified water and keep it in the refrigerator. The next day I take it out, drain, and measure the water and rice: a 1.5 to 1 ratio of water to rice. Cook it in a pressure cooker for only 20 minutes, then wait for 10 minutes. The result is absolutely great. You'll love your brown rice more than ever.
Soaking doesn't make the rice mushy after you've cooked it?
Not at all! It makes your rice grains cook evenly. It gets a really nice texture.
Do you remember the first time you had short-grain brown rice?
I started to be conscious about my diet when I was in my twenties; I had taken classes on macrobiotics and they taught me how important it was to eat everything balanced out. A lot of people say, "I don't eat starch anymore, so scratch the rice, scratch the bread — I want to lose weight." But that's quite not true. You have to have everything balanced in order to lose weight. I learned that from macrobiotics, and that was the first time I ate brown rice.
Do people eat a lot of brown rice in Japan?
We eat rice absolutely everyday, brown or white. It's getting popular to eat brown rice these days, compared to 10 years ago. When I started to cook brown rice, it wasn't popular because it takes time and requires certain equipment to make it right and great. But these days a lot of huge companies make rice cookers that have a button for brown rice.
Do you plan to use it at your new restaurant?
Of course! It'll be part of the menu for lunch and dinner service. We already purchased a huge 10-quart pressure cooker, and I'm definitely going to use it to cook the brown rice.
The pressure cooker is my secret weapon: I use it everyday, to do anything! It keeps the moisture in the pot, which means it's great for cooking grains and braising meat. The results are really different. For home cooks, you can do everything on the fly in a pressure cooker.
You can even steam vegetables in five minutes. They retain their vitamins, minerals and iron. When you blanch haricot vert — summer beans are in season now — in water, all that great stuff goes in the water, and then you drain the water and eat the beans. Why not steam it in a pressure cooker so you keep everything? It's a great investment.
If you want to cook brown rice for your family you can, and fast. You don't need 45 minutes. If you're not a big fan of brown rice, you can add wild rice (it has a lot of fiber) and also barley (it has vitamin B), and cook all those grains together. Most of the grains will cook perfectly.
Do you know where you'll be sourcing the organic short-grain brown rice for the restaurant?
I haven't gotten vendors yet, but I want to use California products. I don't want to force any products to fly from Japan, to fly from Vietnam, to fly so far — it doesn't make sense. I'm sure there are many farmers who grow organic brown rice in California, so that's my priority. There's great organic brown rice in Whole Foods already, so it's easy for everyone to get.
Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice
Chef Kuniko Yagi always uses organic, short-grain rice. This recipe can be the foundation for many healthful dishes.
1 cup organic, short-grain brown rice
1½ cups ﬁltered water, plus more for soaking
Lightly rinse rice and place in medium bowl; add ﬁltered water to just cover. Store in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to prepare, drain water. Place rice and 1½ cups water in pressure cooker. Secure lid. Cook over high until pot reaches high pressure, about 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, checking to ensure pressure remains low. Cook 20 minutes, then remove from heat.
Let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, until pressure has gone down. Remove lid and serve.
This healthful and comforting dish would be at home on the breakfast or dinner table. Feel free to serve your favorite vegetable on the side.
2 large, free-range, organic eggs
1 recipe Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice (see above), divided
1 cup hot green tea, divided
1 teaspoon soy sauce, divided, or more to taste
Pinch ﬂeur de sel (French sea salt), or more to taste
Bring small pot of water to boil over high heat. With spoon, gently add eggs. Lower heat to simmer. After 4 minutes, shut off heat and remove eggs from water. Briefly run eggs under cold water. Set eggs aside.
Meanwhile, divide brown rice between two shallow bowls, then evenly divide green tea between bowls.
Over one bowl, crack egg's shell and gently out scoop egg, placing in center of bowl. Repeat with remaining egg. Season both bowls with soy sauce and ﬂeur de sel. Serve immediately.
Text by Clean Plates Managing Editor, Tory L. Davis