By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
As millions of people around the world can attest, rice is cheap and filling and a tasty addition to any meal, especially if your food budget is limited. Indeed, a study by the International Rice Research Institute found that about three billion people eat rice every day and more than 600 million depend on rice as a staple. It's an important food in America, too, where people eat an average of 25 pounds of rice a year. Congress has even designated September as National Rice Month.Rice is a simple and versatile food.
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If your rice repertoire could use a shake up, these rice dishes on a budget are good starting points. We're pretty sure they'll keep you and your wallet comfortably full.
Rice Cakes. If you like to snack throughout the day, consider making your own rice cakes. This rice dish on a budget calls for any variety of sticky rice, such as short grain white rice or Thai rice labeled "sweet rice" or "glutinous rice." Let the rice soak in water at least 30 minutes and then steam per package directions. As the rice cools and becomes sticky, take small amounts and shape into rice cakes. Bake the rice cakes on a sheet pan in a slow to moderate oven until completely dry and crispy. Add seasoning to the rice as you cook it or leave it plain and top the rice cakes with peanut butter, jelly, or any favorite spread.
Soups and Appetizers. Rice dishes on a budget mean hearty soups and appetizers. Preparing soup can be as simple as heating up vegetable or chicken broth with fresh or frozen peas or corn, adding spices or herbs to taste, throwing in a handful or two of rice, and simmering for 10-20 minutes. Appetizers take a bit more work but you'll be well rewarded. These recipes for ham and cheese and spicy vegetarian rice croquettes are crowd pleasers.
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Main Attraction. Make rice the centerpiece at dinner with rice dishes on a budget that belong to the casserole and stir fry categories. Take whatever leftover meat and/or veggies you have in the fridge, mix with cooked rice, eggs, and herbs or spices, top with cheese, and bake. For a stovetop treat, stir fry or sauté some onions and peppers, add a protein (diced chicken or pork are flavorful and cheap) and soy sauce, and serve over mounds of white or brown rice. Or, stir fry cooked rice with soy sauce (make sure the rice is cold) and flesh out with cooked scrambled eggs, veggies, and bits of meat.Brown rice is cheaper and healthier than the white variety.
Dessert. No meal is complete without something sweet. Revert back to your childhood days when Rice Krispy Treats were all the rage. The official Kellogg's recipe calls for its brand of cereal, but you can use any type of crispy rice and personalize this rice dish on a budget by adding all sorts of goodies -- bits of candy, dried fruit, food coloring, whatever. You can also use leftover rice for rice pudding, more childhood comfort food.
Breakfast. Rice doesn't last forever in the fridge, so break the mold and use it for breakfast. Heat up leftover rice with a bit of water, milk, butter, and cinnamon and sugar for a sweet congee; add nuts and dried fruit as the mood strikes.
One final note: Brown rice is more nutritious than white varieties because fiber and minerals are lost when rice is processed. Brown rice is an acquired taste for some people, though, and in any given recipe it isn't always a perfect substitute for white rice. But if you're looking for novel ways to liven up rice dishes on a budget, brown rice is worth a try.
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