Food & Drink

Black rice risotto: Dramatic, dark and healthful

Risotto is dramatic and healthful using black rice.
Risotto is dramatic and healthful using black rice. Dixie D. Vereen/The Washington Post

In my kitchen, black is the new brown, when it comes to rice, anyway.

Known as “longevity” or “tribute” rice, in ancient times it was reserved exclusively for the Chinese emperor and banned for the masses. It is now easy, and quite legal, to come by. Still, black rice has an exotic, uncommon appeal and, when swapped for more-mundane brown rice, transforms a dish with its dramatic purple-ebony hue.

It is a whole grain that tastes, and cooks up, much like brown rice, with a slightly nuttier flavor and delightful chewiness. Black rice not only ups the ante visually and tastewise but also has more health benefits than already nutritionally packed brown rice. The compound that imparts its color is the same one found in blueberries, anthocyanin, which protects against the inflammation thought to be at the root of many diseases.

You can contemplate that healthful bonus or not as you indulge in this sumptuous black rice risotto. To make it, just soften some onion in olive oil, then stir in the rice until it is coated and slightly toasted. Add a splash of white wine, and, once that is absorbed, gradually add hot broth about 3/4 cup at a time, until each addition is absorbed.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to stir risotto constantly. You do need to stand by, though, to work in the next ladleful of broth before the prior one is completely absorbed. That allows the starch to be released from the grain so the dish comes out decadently creamy and, thanks to the black rice, develops a stunning deep-purple color. It is simply and classically seasoned with Parmesan, basil, salt and pepper, for a main course that you can wholeheartedly enjoy.

Black Rice Risotto

Black rice is available at Whole Foods Markets and some other health-food/organic stores.

6 cups no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, cut into small dice (1 cup)

1 1/2 cups black rice

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled tightly and cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)

Heat the broth in a medium pot over medium-high heat until hot but not boiling. Reduce the heat to low; keep warm while you make the risotto.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or large, deep skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and stir to coat. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes, then stir in the rice until evenly coated. Cook for 1 minute, then add the wine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the wine is almost completely absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add about 3/4 cup hot broth, stirring frequently until the broth is almost completely absorbed, 6 to 7 minutes.

Repeat with the remaining broth, adding about 3/4 cup at a time, until the rice is tender yet still somewhat chewy and the dish is creamy-looking, about 50 minutes total. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, a light pinch of pepper and cheese.

Divide among individual wide, shallow bowls. Garnish with additional cheese and the basil.

Per serving: 390 calories, 13 g protein, 61 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

Yield: 4 servings.