Rice is Nice; but With a Tea Vinaigrette, It’s Better
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 28 seconds
Although it was more than 50(!) years ago, I can still recall the searingly hot days in Florence, Italy when all I wanted to eat was cold picnic food – pasta be damned. I had been recommended to a particular delicacies shop where I could get all the makings of a great picnic to enjoy in the Boboli Gardens. Included on that summer’s day repast was a rice salad, insalata di riso, a wondrous thing that I had never experienced before. It was stuffed into a whole tender roasted red pepper. Made of perfectly-cooked rice, finely-chopped celery, raisins, and toasted pine nuts, all lightly coated in a deliciously tart vinaigrette dressing, it made an impression. Fast forward to the not-so-carefree dog days of summer in LA mid-pandemic, and rice salad is on my menu once again – but with a difference. In keeping with my love of all things tea-flavored, the rice is steamed in a delicate Darjeeling tea, yet sparkles with the same basic ingredients of the Florentine version.
Certainly I am not going out on a limb touting the virtues of eating tea and rice together. Where tea is grown and consumed, many commonly enjoy that combination in any number of ways. (Think of ochazuke – a bowl of leftover rice with bits and pieces of cooked proteins such as salmon bits or chicken, with some prepared vegetables that you find in your refrigerator – the whole thing is then served with hot brewed tea poured over it).
In my dish, I choose to augment the tea’s flavor by creating a tea-based dressing—a simple combination of good olive oil, brewed tea, fresh lemon juice (milder than vinegar, which would clash with the tea), sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the whole ensemble just lightly sweetened with honey. A shower of fresh basil, parsley, mint, tarragon, or what have you would finish things off beautifully. Using a long-grain rice like basmati (yes, decidedly un-Italian) will lead to a less starchy salad and the grains will remain separate. Enjoy this at room temperature as I did on those picnics near the Arno.
Note: Feel free to add cubed zucchini, peeled and seeded tomatoes, slightly cooked cubes of carrot, green peas, red bell pepper (roasted, skin removed), cubes of celery, etc. Be guided by what’s best at your farmers’ market. There’s no dogma about which vegetables to use.
To serve 2 as a substantial vegetarian lunch
Rice Salad Mixture
- 1.5 c. toasted pine nuts
- 1 c. basmati or other long grain rice
- 2 c. brewed Darjeeling tea
- Salt, black pepper to taste
- ½ c. Vegetable inclusions as desired (see Note above)
- Fresh Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves finely chopped and other herbs as desired—basil, dill, mint, tarragon, leaves only (chop and add at the last minute as these will tend to darken once chopped)
- Toast the pine nuts by baking them on a sheet pan until slightly golden—watch these carefully as they burn easily—and set aside.
- Cook the rice in the tea, with a bit of salt, until tender and then cover, allowing the liquid to be absorbed. If the cooking liquid is not completely absorbed, pour the rice into a fine-meshed sieve and drain off excess liquid.
- Fluff up the rice and add the vegetables, toasted pine nuts, and parsley and other herbs, as desired.
- ½ c. brewed tea, still warm
- 1 T. honey, dissolved into the warm tea
- ½ c. good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Place the tea and honey mixture into a bowl.
- While whisking vigorously, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl. Continue whisking until the mixture is emulsified (it’s slightly thickened here).
- Add the lemon juice. Whisk again and then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Refrigerate until ready to use if not using immediately.
- Bring to room temperature before using and taste again to confirm that the amount of salt and pepper is sufficient.
Lightly dress the rice and vegetable mixture with the Tea Vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature. If making the rice in advance, dress at the last minute. You will have extra Vinaigrette; it will sparkle on smoked chicken, grilled shrimp or salmon, or served over some nice tender lettuce.