Potlucks in general don’t give me much pause for trepidation. I know the crowd-pleasing dishes and can make anything from the spectrum of hearty main dish to appetizer or dessert, and besides, cookies or a large vegetable tray can always be purchased last minute at the grocery store. I felt like I needed to up my game for Isobel’s end-of-the-school-year family picnic because I’d be feeding children. Their little appetites weighed on my mind. I wanted them to actually want to eat my offering but at the same time I wanted it be nourishing. I wanted to avoid meat, nuts, gluten, and dairy, the classic allergy foods, so as many kids as possible could enjoy it. Low on sugar and light on fat were a necessity. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but with the layoff severely affecting our budget, it needed to be cheap.
White rice may not come to mind when you are thinking healthy food, and really, it isn’t, but in this case it was the lesser of other evils and I figured it would function as a good delivery method for the vegetables. Also it’s healthier than pizza and potato chips and will provide enough energy for your kid to run around in circles with her classmates while shrieking at top volume for a few hours. Many kids will attempt to eat rice, especially flavorful seasoned rice, and probably won’t notice the presence of a few vegetables until it’s too late. That was my plan, anyway, and it worked brilliantly. I only had just enough salad to make a late afternoon snack for just myself later, and I’m proud to say my dish was located between a bowl of Doritos, boxes of cheese pizza, and some bagels.
The seasoning on the rice is subtle, but it’s there, and it comes from a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame seed oil, honey, and rice vinegar. The vegetables are lightly steamed beforehand to soften them enough to tempt children but not enough to turn to mush when folded into hot rice. The rice itself is steamed with a handful of dried shiitake added to the water for extra depth of flavor. If you are serving this to adults or kids with a more adventurous palette, you could add sliced scallions, bean sprouts, or lightly cooked peas to the mix.
- 2 1/2 cups uncooked white rice, I used Jasmine
- a handful or two of dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 cup carrots, diced small
- 1/2 cup celery, diced small
- 2-3 tbs of soy sauce, to taste
- 2-3 tbs of toasted sesame seed oil, to taste
- 2-3 tbs of rice wine vinegar, to taste
- 1-2 tb of honey, to taste
- sprinkling of black or tan sesame seeds
– Cook your rice as you normally do (I use a rice cooker), and after you add the water add your handfuls of shiitake to cook along with the rice so it infuses the grains with its deep umami flavor. When the rice is finished cooking the mushrooms will be tender. Since I made this dish for kids, I sliced the mushrooms up into small bits and added them back to the rice after they were cooked, but you can always leave them out.
– Lightly steam or blanch the carrots and celery and rinse with cold water directly after to stop the cooking. I put them in a bowl with a bit of water and a cloth napkin to cover and I microwaved them on high for two minutes before rinsing them. You want them to soften but to still have a bit of a crunch, that way they maintain their taste and shape after cooking.
– After the rice is done cooking, add it to a bowl along with the vegetables and begin the seasoning process. I tried to estimate the amounts of seasoning I used above but that’s just my best guess. I started with the soy sauce and sesame oil and tasted as I went, adding the honey last to round out the seasonings and balance the vinegar. You can make this a barely seasoned dish or a robustly flavored one. If you are a strict vegan you can replace the honey with agave syrup or plain sugar dissolved in some vinegar.
– Top with a thick sprinkling of sesame seeds. This is good warm, at room temperature, or cold, but room temperature is probably my favorite.