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Martha Stewart Living, February 2010

Take one humble ingredient, and get a wide variety of sensational dishes. No wonder this versatile grain is a beloved staple around the world.

Rice loves liquid -- in the paddies where it grows, in the pot where it absorbs water or stock, and on the plate where the nesting grains readily soak up gravies and juices. Its sweet-savory flavor ranges from potent to subtle, but the firm yet yielding texture of cooked rice is a hallmark of all varieties, whether brown or white, long-grain or short.

The miracle of rice lies not in the satiety it provides, although that is considered invaluable in many parts of the world, but rather in the grain's dexterity -- its ability to incorporate and support so many other flavors while delivering an ever-appealing range of textures: fluffy, silky, creamy, crisp. Rice is often used as a thickener for soups and stews. It's also ground to make baked goods and fermented to produce beer and sake.

Dried rice grains soften and swell gradually as they simmer. Once they reach tenderness, they are ready to eat, although classic rice dishes around the globe call for additional frying, baking, toasting, or mashing. In the Persian tah-dig, the rice is cooked in a heavy skillet or pot until the edges barely crust over, yielding a crunchy element that is typically the most sought-after part of the dish. The opposite effect, a rich silkiness, is achieved in a classic risotto by constantly stirring the starchy Arborio grains with cup upon cup of broth (a final dose of butter and Parmesan cheese seals the deal).

A popular method for coaxing extra aroma and flavor is the pilaf approach: toasting the grains in oil for a few minutes before adding the liquids. This step heightens rice's nuttiness, releases an enticing scent, and gives a complexity to rice dishes that will endear this technique to you every time you make a pot.

Get our recipe for Persian Rice with Duck Confit and Dried Cherries.

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