I often joke that the color wheel is missing a shade, one I would affectionately call “Copenhagen gray.” A delightful combination of dull steel blue and gunmetal. Although this winter has been particularly bright, there are still those days that seem like the sun never actually rises…and then it’s nighttime.

I suppose that is why this week, I’m craving color—something bursting with crystal clear hues and juicy flavors. We’re rounding the corner to spring and I can feel it everywhere: little yellow buds poking up through dark, wet soil, the light ever so slightly higher in the sky, and the biting wind changing to something kinder.

This hint of changing seasons inspired me to create a warming, fragrant, spice-laden, technicolor masterpiece. Inspired by the traditional Persian jeweled rice, this recipe is simpler; you cook everything in one pot and, of course, use brown rice in place of the nutritionally deficient white kind.

I love the combination of orange, cinnamon, saffron, and cumin, all together in a mound of basmati perfumed with mint, roasted nuts, and pomegranate seeds. Juicy indeed.

Brown Rice vs. White Rice
You can tell that times are changing when your local sushi joint suddenly offers a brown rice roll in place of the white version. It seems that people everywhere are making smarter choices when it comes to grains, and seeing higher-fiber options pop up on grocery stores store shelves and on restaurant menus means that our “alternative, healthy ways” are reaching the mainstream. Rejoice!

But what exactly is the difference between a whole grain and a processed one? In the case of rice specifically, is there anything more than just the obvious fiber loss?

First we need to understand how a grain of rice is built. Each grain of rice is grown with an inedible, protective outer husk. Once it is ready for harvest, the husk is removed to reveal the whole grain, or brown rice, as we know it. This whole grain contains three vital parts: the outer layer called the bran, where fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals reside. The second part is the germ, which contains essential fats, vitamin E, antioxidants, more B vitamins, iron, and zinc. The third part is the endosperm, which makes up the majority of the grain, and is comprised mainly of carbohydrates and some protein.

As brown rice and white rice contain virtually the same amount of calories per cup (232 vs. 223), why not take the extra hit of fiber, as well as a whole host of essential vitamins and minerals? Jeweled rice dishes traditionally call for white rice, but I could not resist the fuller flavour and higher nutrient content found in the unprocessed alternative.

This rice makes an excellent side dish, but it’s also hearty enough to be a meal. If you’re looking to boost the protein, simply add some lentils to the rice or toss some chickpeas into the mix before serving. This is also delicious with sautéed eggplant or mushrooms and a poached egg. Any way you dish it up, you’ll appreciate the mix of bright flavours and colors on a cloudy day.

Jeweled Brown Rice with Orange Zest and Mint
Serves 6-8

2 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed (if you can, soak the rice for up to 8 hours)
Pinch saffron
2 small yellow onions or shallots
2 medium carrots
Zest of 1 organic orange
Ghee or coconut oil
½ Tbsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. turmeric
4 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup mixed dried fruit (dates, apricots, raisins)
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup packed mint leaves
½ cup packed chives
1 small pomegranate
½ cup nuts (almonds, pistachios)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

1. In a small glass of hot water (3-4 Tbsp.), add a pinch of saffron and let steep into a “tea” while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Dice onion. Grate carrots. Slice off the outer edge of the orange rind, removing as little white pith as possible. Then slice into matchstick-sized strips. Set aside.

3. Heat a knob of ghee or coconut oil in a pot. Add cumin seeds and cook until fragrant, 1 minute, then add turmeric, bay leaves, and the cinnamon stick, stir to coat with oil and fry for another minute until fragrant. Next add onion, carrots, orange rind, and dried fruit. Cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

4. Drain rice and add it to the pot with 4 cups of water, the saffron “tea,” and salt. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer for 45 minutes, or until the water has evaporated.

5. While the rice is cooking, wash and chop the herbs. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. Gently roast the nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden.

6. When the rice is finished cooking, remove form heat. Scoop rice out onto a baking sheet to cool slightly and to prevent the grains from sticking together. After a few minutes, sprinkle with herbs, nuts, and pomegranate seeds. Fold to incorporate. Season to taste (you will likely need to add more salt at this stage).

7. Serve rice with a drizzle of good olive oil and lemon wedge. Although the lemon may seem like an afterthought, it is an essential element of the dish, rounding out the flavours and adding a zesty kick. Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *   *
And have you ever wondered what a typical day of eating looks like for me? Check out “A Day in my Diet” over at Shape.com 

Love and light,
Sarah B

You may also like…