Umami brown rice with arame, hemp and garlicky almonds

Since I first encountered short-grain brown rice, it has held a place of such regal value in my ingredient hierarchy and the long-grain version will never quite cut it in the same way: nutty, nuggety and just so satisfying to eat, it is something we are sure to have in abundance in our kitchen and the last minutes staple I aways pull out to quickly boil as a side at most meals. And since it is so often on the menu, getting creative with different ways to season it has become essential.

This recipe ticks all of my current taste cravings and is the perfect combination of salt and umami, allowing it to sit well with almost anything it accompanies. For lunch and dinner in a hurry, nothing is easier than some roast veggies, a quick dahl or tagine, some steamed greens with tamari or tahini sauce, and a grounding side of rice. The grain itself (when whole and brown, not white and de-husked) is packed with essential minerals including high amounts of manganese, which plays an important role in fatty acid and energy production, and antioxidant protection from free radical damage. It also contains good amounts of selenium (vital for optimal thyroid and immune function), phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and B vitamins – also essential for energy levels and increasingly under strain as the busy month of December unfolds and our nervous systems can find themselves under added stress. What many of us don’t know is that the milling and polishing methods that remove the outer husk and turn rice from brown to white strips the grain of between 60-90% of the various B vitamins it contains, as well as half of the manganese, over half of the iron and all the essential fatty acids and fiber. So keeping it whole and brown is a no brainer not only for taste and texture but for nourishment as well.

Since many of us often cook brown rice as an easy going accompaniment to vegetable dishes, adding some extra protein and fats where we can is always a good idea. Here, almonds and hemp oil add some plant-based protein and omegas to the grain, boosted with mineral-rich arame and antiviral garlic. The secret ingredient is nutritional yeast (an inactive form which harnesses a wonderful umami flavour and brings a moreish cheesiness to anything it touches).

The garlic and almond combination is one of my favourites and you can add it alone to any grain for some instant flavour and crunch. Here, a little parsley brings some colour and vitamin C; any herb would work and they are a great way to bring a little extra nutrition to everyday grains and sides.

Serves 2, as a side

1 cup short grain brown rice

500ml water (or optional vegetable stock)

2 tsp dried arame

12 almonds

1 large clove garlic

2 tsp olive oil (preferably not extra virgin)

a pinch of sea or pink salt

a drizzle of cold-pressed hemp oil

1/2 tsp tamari (or more to taste)

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

a small handful of chopped parsley

a grind of black pepper

In a medium pan, place your rice and water / stock, bring to the boil and cover for fifteen to twenty minutes until soft but still with a little bite. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, soak the arame in hot water to rehydrate it. When soft, drain and set aside.

In a pestle and mortar, crush your almonds and garlic with a good pinch of salt until they form fine chunks. Gently fry in 1-2 tsp olive oil at a low temperature until crispy, then remove from the heat set aside.

Once your rice is ready, add the hemp oil, arame and garlicky almonds and mix well. Next, stir in the tamari, parsley and nutritional yeast, adjusting any flavours to taste (you may want to go gently on the tamari at first since all brands vary in strength and saltiness). Finish with an extra sprig of parsley and some black pepper before serving warm.

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