R for Rice

In Sumatra, Indonesia, rice is often sown by women with long hair hanging loosely down their backs as it is thought to help the rice grow more abundantly and with long stalks! 

Rice is, without doubt, one of the earliest foods that humans started cultivating. Though it is impossible to pin-point exactly when humans first began its cultivation, many historians believe that rice was grown as far back as 5000 years BC.

Archaeologists excavating in India discovered rice which could be dated to 4530BC. However, the first recorded mention of rice as food originates from China in 2800 BC. 

Although a particular country cannot be identified as being the home of the rice plant, considering it might have been native to all, it certainly originated in Asia. And the travelers took with them the seeds to their home lands and beyond, spreading the crop to Europe and Americas.

However, cultivating rice also depended on the climate. The rice plant requires immense quantities of water in its early days, followed by a long and uninterrupted season of hot dry weather. The colder climate of the northern Europe and UK is not conducive to growing rice, while certain regions in Europe, such as Italy and Spain have successfully done so.

Legend has it that President Thomas Jefferson once broke an Italian law by smuggling rice seed out of Italy during a diplomatic mission in the late 18th Century. True or not, US has a thriving rice industry now, with Arkansas being the largest rice producing state in the country.

Rice has been given much importance in many cultures. It is often directly associated with prosperity. In Japan rice enjoys the patronage of its own god, Inari, and in Indonesia its own goddess, the Dewie Srie.

Rice is also linked to fertility and for this reason the custom of throwing rice at newly wedded couples exists. In India, rice is always the first food offered by a new bride to her husband, to ensure fertility in the marriage, and children are given rice as their first solid food. And, according to Louisiana folklore, the test of a true Cajun is whether they can calculate the precise quantity of gravy needed to accompany a crop of rice growing in a field!

The two main sub-species of rice are Indica varieties which are long grain and Japonica which are generally short or medium grain. Rice comes in red, black, brown and yellow colors, in addition to the common white. Wild rice, though, is not really a rice; it is the seed of an aquatic grass.

Every country and culture has its own favorite rice dishes. Arroz con pollo, jambalaya, biryani, Chinese congee, paella, kedgeree, risotto, fried rice, assortment of rice puddings… the list goes on. And there are several varieties of rice to suit every need. Arborio, Bomba, Basmati, Jasmine, Jeera, Masuri… the list goes on.

Rice is gluten free and is suitable for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Vinegars, Japanese Sake and wine are made from rice.

Rice is a very versatile food. It can be eaten hot or cold; sweet or savoury; and for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even as a snack. Today we are making a warm, creamy rice and winter squash soup that is sweet and savory.

Rice and Winter Squash Soup


  • 1 small butternut squash (1½ to 2 pounds) peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • ¾ cup jasmine rice (or other long-grain rice), rinsed
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
  • Season the squash pieces with salt and pepper. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the sugar, if using and toss well together. (Adding the sugar will create better caramelization but if you would not like the sweetness, sugar can be omitted.)
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment. Spread the squash on the pan in a single layer and roast in the preheated oven, for about 30 minutes, tossing once half way through. When done, set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a largish pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel plate and allow to cool. When cool, crumble the bacon pieces and set aside.
  • Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat, and add onion and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges start to brown.
  • Add the thyme sprigs and keep stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
  • Add rice and stir to coat in the fat.
  • Add the broth and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower heat to a simmer. 
  • Cook until rice is done, slightly al dente. 
  • Discard the thyme sprigs and add the heavy cream.
  • Adjust the seasoning and take off the heat.
  • Ladle into bowls, garnish with thyme leaves and serve with the roasted squash and crumbled bacon piled on top.

Here is a link for information on all things rice: https://www.riceassociation.org.uk/about-rice

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