I worried that a great love might make everything else an exile. It turned out that being together at twilight in the olive groves of Umbria did, indeed, measure everything after that. --Jack Gilbert
Autumn is littered with landmines of nostalgia. A few happy errands required me to go to New York City last weekend which always makes me excited, especially in a rental car (because one of these days, Amy and I are going to be chased down for sneaking into the train on one swipe). Heading back north, the Taconic Parkway this time of year appears like the path to heaven just past the Bronx and the drive through the Hudson Valley and Catskill region got me seriously considering past lives. The turning and falling leaves combined with the thick, warm air as I drove through familiar-feeling small towns brought back a favorite quotation from a favorite book:
Perhaps our lives spread around us like a fan and we can only know one life, but by mistake sense others. --Jeanette Winterson
Between the almost-spooky connection to Hudson, NY and a little cooking job for a band who performed at the amazing old glue-factory turned art-venue Basilica, I got to thinking about rice and friends. Under no circumstances would I have gotten this job had it not been for a dear friend who has raised nearly all of my standards, nor would it have been as successful a meal had mighty brown rice not been a part of it. Grounding in nature and strengthening for the spleen, brown rice is considered the most whole of all grains -- which you can see by the strong middle seam in each grain of rice which remains intact even after cooking. This time of year it is so easy to get swept away by memories or sensed-lives that brown rice is a sound guarantee that one's feet will remain on the ground despite the tides that come.
Brown Rice and Toasted Sesame Seed Croquettes
inspired by Aveline Kushi
You can go as far out as you wish with these croquettes in terms of spices: toasted cumin, smoked paprika, saffron or even a sweet combination of cinnamon, cardamom and brown sugar. Additionally, if you use a more glutenous rice (whose name does not mean that it contains gluten, for the record) like sweet rice, you'll have the opportunity to deep-fry the croquettes without them losing form -- their richness pairs especially well with my recommendation of umeboshi paste, which is available in many Asian markets or Macrobiotic/Japanese sections of grocery stores; look at the ingredient list to ensure that there is no MSG.
2 c brown rice
4 c water or stock
1/2 t sea salt
umeboshi paste (tangy pickled plum paste, see above notes) or soaked toasted seaweed (nori)
2 c unhulled sesame seeds, rinsed and toasted
Rinse the rice a few times so that the water runs clear (this gets off dust and makes for a very clean taste). Over high heat, place the rice in a heavy-bottomed skillet and stir gently but constantly until the water evaporates and the rice no longer sticks to the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium and let the rice toast for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until it smells fragrant and nutty. Transfer the toasted rice to the covered pot in which you'll cook the rice, add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low (use a flame tamer if you've got one) and cook for an hour. *
Meanwhile, rinse the sesame seeds (again, to get off the dust) and place in a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Stir constantly until the water evaporates and the sesame seeds no long stick to the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium low and let the sesame seeds toast for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they smell nutty and can be crushed easily. Remove from heat.
When the rice is done cooking, let it cool. If you're in a hurry, this can be expedited by spreading it gently out on a baking tray. Once the rice is cool enough to handle, take three or four tablespoons worth and spread it in your palm. Take 1/2 t of umeboshi paste or of the seaweed and place it in the center of the rice. Using your discernment, fold the rice around the filling so that you have the shape of a ball and none of the filling is apparent. Gently roll the croquette in the sesame seeds so it is covered with the seeds.
Do this with as much of the rice and seeds as you'd like, saving the rest for another endeavor. Serve at room temperature or reheat slowly in the oven, taking care that the sesame seeds don't get overly toasted. Garnish with extra salt, if necessary (which will be the case if you don't use umeboshi) and slivered green onions, if you've got some.
Serve with miso soup, stir-fried vegetables, or some totally delicious meat like the brisket from Momofuku.
* This is a superlative way to cook rice. It is taken directly from the gorgeously illustrated cookbook Aveline Kushi's Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking: For Health, Harmony and Peace
Yields: at least a dozen croquettes
Prep time: 25 minutes (including croquette forming)
Cook time: 1 hour (mostly inactive)