There's nothing wrong with plain, simple white rice. It's calming, pure, and my accompaniment of choice to most meals. As a counterpoint to spicy flavours, you can't go wrong. In some cuisines, it serves as a mop-cum-utensil for sopping up a gravy-thick stew.
But the joy of rice comes around when you start adding stuff to it. Risotto. Paella. Fried rice. Biryani. And the Deep South way: dirty rice. Now, my way with dirty rice is completely inauthentic. Regular members of The Readership will be aware that I have a tendency to read through the traditional method, and then merrily go my own way. But know this: my dirty rice is damn tasty and even… a little bit healthy.
Start, of course, with the star of the dish. For this, basmati or sticky rice won't give as good a result as plain ole long-grain. Cook it first, using whatever method suits, and let it cool slightly. My rice cooker, as ever, does sterling service here, and I'm sometimes frugal and forward thinking enough to throw a couple of corn cobs in the steaming basket to cook over the rice. Saves time, effort, energy etc.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a big, deep, frying pan, and when hot, add two teaspoons each of cumin and sweet paprika. If you're feeling frisky, throw a little chili powder in there too. Let that bubble for a minute or so. Now for some veg. Traditionally you'd add the cajun trinity of onion, celery and green pepper. I used a big spring onion and half a red pepper. I was feeling lazy, had a scallion to use up and there wasn't a green pepper in the house. I am unrepentent.
Aaaanyways. Give the veg a couple of minutes to soften, then add a handful of frozen peas, and a few pucks of frozen spinach. This stuff is genius. It softens quickly in a hot pan, adding a shock of greenery and all the benefits of a leafy green, without needing to cook down huge bags of the stuff. A cheeky way of getting some goodness into any stew or ragu.
Now, bear in mind you've just thrown frozen stuff into a hot environment. That means the temperature in the pan will drop, but you'll also add a little moisture, which will create a kinda-sorta sauce to coat the rice. Season, then simmer until the spinach has broken apart and the peas have gone bright green.
Now throw in a handful of raw prawns, and the rice. Stir through, and cook until the prawns have gone pink. A couple of minutes, which should be enough time to heat the rice through. Once all is steamy and sizzly, throw over a handful of chopped parsley, pile onto plates and dig in.
Needless to say, this is astonishingly versatile. Great with grilled chicken or fish, as part of a barbeque, or alongside a spicy stew. You can zazz it up with some cooked chicken, chorizo or sausage, maybe sweetcorn. As a weekday lifesaver, I think this is an essential part of the repertoire.
Oh, and I found myself humming this while I was at the stove. Dirty rice, I want you, dirty rice I need you, oh-whoa…