Rice—Do You Prefer It Boiled or Raw?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN INDIA
‘DO YOU eat rice boiled or raw?’ That is a question that you as a guest in an Indian home may be asked. In India about 60 percent of the rice eaten is parboiled (cooked partially by boiling). But it may surprise you to know that in Western nations, almost everyone eats what Indians call raw rice!
All of this may not sound so strange when you realize that we are talking, not about the way of preparing rice for the table, but about the method that the Indians use in processing the rice grain as it is being harvested. So, what is done in such processing, and why? A closer look at rice and its preparation as a food grain will provide enlightening answers.
Staple of Millions
Archaeological finds and ancient records indicate that rice was cultivated in India and China as far back as the third millennium B.C.E. The ancient inhabitants of India called it dhanya, or “sustainer of the human race.” It is still an appropriate name because more people live on rice than on any other single food crop. Most of these people live in Asia, where, according to one source, over 600 million people obtain half their daily food calories from rice alone and where over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed.
The wet, tropical Ganges delta is one of the world’s leading rice-producing areas. Abundant rainfall and warm temperatures, as well as a plentiful supply of labor, make this an ideal place for rice cultivation. Let us accept the invitation of our village-dwelling friends in this region and view firsthand the harvesting and processing of rice.
Harvesting the Paddies
Our bus takes us to Jaidercote in West Bengal, and we continue our journey to the interior by tricycle ricksha. Soon we see vigorous activity in the fields. No sight of combine harvesters here! Rather, fathers, sons, uncles, and brothers are busy in the rice paddies, deftly cutting a handful of stalks at a time with small sickles. One of the reapers, sensing our camera, quickly finishes tying his sheaf with a strand of straw and holds it aloft in an action pose. We laugh at how camera conscious the village people have become.
The sheaves are left to dry in the sun for a day or two. Then the younger members of the family can lend a hand, ferrying home small bales of the rustling dry sheaves neatly balanced on their heads.
Finally, we arrive at the village. “How are you, Dada?” we greet our host, using a term of respect. His smile assures us that all is well, and we notice his wife scurrying away to prepare tea.
Over our morning tea, we ask how the year’s harvest has been. “Not so bad,” he replies with a farmer’s typical restraint, but then he laments that with the use of high-yield seeds in more recent years, the land’s resources are being overtaxed. At first they produced what seemed like miracle crops, but now it is a very different story. The chemical fertilizers needed for the high-yield seeds are expensive, and he cannot afford them.
Threshing and Parboiling
As we finish our snack, we urge the family to carry on with their harvest work, which we have come to watch. In this home the threshing is already done. Just down the path, at a neighboring home, the women are busy. They beat individual sheaves on a bamboo platform and let the grains fall through the cracks. The remaining straw is piled into a rick.
Unmilled rice, also called paddy, is covered with a coarse husk, which is quite indigestible. So for those who prefer raw rice, the only further step is hulling, or removing the husk, and perhaps a little polishing and milling if the product is for the fastidious foreign market.
The yield here, however, is not for export but will be eaten by the farming families themselves. They store the grain in the tikri, or the family-size thatched silo. People of the Ganges delta generally eat boiled rice, but we gently tease our host, suggesting that he should make raw rice this year.
“Certainly not,” he responds. “In these parts we are accustomed to boiled rice and somehow just do not relish raw in the same way.”
We have heard that boiled rice is prepared by a process of steeping and parboiling, but we are not sure how this is done. Happily our friend offers to demonstrate the process his family uses. There is no need for special equipment because only a small amount is done at a time to meet the family’s needs for a week or two. They fill a large hanri, or cooking pot, with the husk-covered grains stored in the tikri and then add about a quart of water. That is then heated on the gentle flames of a straw-fired cooking range, called an oonoon, until the water has evaporated. The contents are then soaked overnight in a tub of fresh water, and after being strained, they are placed back in the hanri to steam until dry once again. Finally, the grains are spread on the ground to harden in the sun, being turned occasionally by foot.
This seemed like a lot of extra work to us, but there are some advantages to this process besides suiting the family preference. Parboiling allows certain vitamins and nutrients in the rice grain to be absorbed deeply into the endosperm, or the food part, of the paddy. These are then not so easily leached out during subsequent washing and cooking. The result is a more nourishing meal. The extra food value can literally mean the difference between life and death for those who subsist mainly on a diet of rice.
Another benefit more readily appreciated by the farmers themselves is that parboiled grains are more easily preserved and the husk is easier to remove. That, along with enhanced toughness, leads to less breakage.
A Taste of the Grain
“Time now for some more tea and snacks,” says our host. We walk back to his home where Dida (Granny) is preparing moori. This freshly made puffed rice is a great favorite with all, especially the children. Dida is squatting by the oonoon, roasting a few cupfuls of hull-less parboiled rice that she has previously moistened and mixed with a little salt. The grains are now dry and loose so that she sprinkles them a few at a time into an iron pan containing hot sand. As she continues to heat the sand, the rice puffs to several times its normal size. The finished moori is then quickly skimmed from the top of the sand with a bunch of twigs before it has a chance to burn. The twigs also serve to administer punishment to little hands eager to dip into the basket of hot moori.
We enjoy our moori along with chunks of freshly cut coconut, but we are careful not to eat too much, as we remember that lunch is not far away.
The final process to see is the hulling. Until quite recently this was done by a foot-operated pestle and mortar called a dhenki, but now, even in remote places, machine-operated hullers do a much faster job. This change is lamented by some of the old-timers, since the dhenki-separated rice leaves much of the grain’s red inner skin (epidermis) intact, giving a characteristic taste and added nutrients to the food. The machine, however, rips off everything—husk, bran, and much of the germ—leaving only the white, starchy endosperm so much in demand today.
The ladies are now eager that we eat the feast that they have been preparing. They have cooked the parboiled rice by boiling it, and it is now being heaped in steaming piles on banana-leaf plates. Next come preparations of lentils, local vegetables, and pond fish to eat along with the rice. All of us agree that this is one of the most enjoyable parts of our visit.
Yes, whether eaten boiled or raw, rice is a delicious provision, one of the green grasses that God made to sprout as “vegetation for the service of mankind.” —Psalm 104:14.
[Box on page 26]
In many parts of India, a puffed-rice snack is sold on the streets by colorful vendors. The tasty and nutritious Jhal moori can easily be prepared and makes a good change from the usual prepackaged snack foods.
Starting with a cupful of crisp, unsweetened puffed rice, add a sprinkle of the following, to taste: finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber, green chili peppers (optional), a few peanuts, chick-peas (optional), chaat masala (a mixture of powdered spices, available in Indian stores) or a pinch of salt and pepper, a half teaspoon of mustard oil or other salad oil. Shake ingredients together vigorously, and eat immediately.
Since tastes vary, the moori vendor allows the eater to choose from his vast array of cut vegetables and spices what and how much should be added. You can also serve the snack fondue-style, allowing your guests to mix their own moori.
[Pictures on page 24, 25]
(1) Threshing the rice stalks (2) Winnowing (3) Dida preparing “moori” (4) “Moori” basket with various ingredients