Seductions of Rice

by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Published by Artisan/Random House Canada

454 pages, 1998


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The Definitive
Rice Guide


Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It could just as easily -- and perhaps more accurately -- have been called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rice or The Complete Encyclopedia of Rice. That is to say that Seductions of Rice is the book to end all books on rice. If authors Duguid and Alford haven't included it, it probably isn't worth knowing. 454 kick-butt pages with 245 photographs on the subject of -- you guessed it -- rice. Serious chefs will find this a tough one to resist.

Obviously a 454 page book talks about a lot more than just types of rice: though this is covered quite brilliantly as well. Every type of rice you can think of -- and a couple you probably never thought to think of -- are included, both in photographs and description.

For instance, we learn the Louisiana pecan rice is also know as wild pecan rice and it's a "long-grain aromatic Della rice from Louisiana." And that jasmati is "an American 'designer rice,' developed in Texas and is a combination of jasmine rice and basmati." Of course, the information on rice types only begins to scratch the surface of the content covered.

Think of something -- anything, I dare you -- and The Seductions of Rice has it covered. Buying, storing, choosing, and then lots and lots of preparing: in many different ways. There are chapters on cooking rice and the stuff that goes with rice for each major rice-eating culture: including North American-style. Chapters are subtitled The Chinese Way, The Thai Way, The Japanese Way, The Indian Way, The Central Asian and Persian Ways, The Mediterranean Way, The Senegalese Way and The North American Way. In addition, there are chapters on the cultivation and harvesting of rice as well as a rice dictionary.

The preface sums the authors' reasons for doing a big book on rice very well:

We didn't grow up with rice, we came to know it through travel in Asia, like people who travel to France for the first time and discover good cheese and good wine. But it took a while for this discovery to happen. We were without all the little sensibilities that people have when they grow up eating rice as a staple food. It took years for us to really appreciate the smells and textures of different varieties, and to have a sense of why one should be cooked one way and another a different way.

Having made the discovery, however, this dynamic cooking duo weren't about to let it go. Seductions of Rice is a triumph of a cookbook: one whose sheer weight and volume can't help but inspire admiration.

There's more to admire. The recipes -- and there are many -- are clear and concise and the directions are easy to follow. As well, each recipe is prefaced with an interesting story or some sort of basic set up. This is something I always like to see in a cookbook because it not only offers a quick view to the way the author thinks, it can also add a bit of history or background on the recipe you're about to try. For example, this little preface from the Simple Dal recipe:

One day Naomi was in the kitchen testing a rice that we have never cooked before, a rice she had found in New York City called rosematta. It's a red firm rice from southern India that gave a good smell to the kitchen as it cooked, a rice we have really come to love. When we sampled a spoonful, our first thought was, where is the dal? A friend was visiting at the time, so we asked her to stay for lunch, and while we chatted we put on a pot of red lentils, seasoned with a stick of cinnamon (the recipe we give here). In half an hour we were eating rice and dal. So good, and so easy.

Still more admiration: every section contains interesting anecdotes about the people and food this cooking couple have encountered during their travels. As well, lovely photos of these people and travels are included. So while Seductions of Rice is most definitely a volume that belongs on the cookbook shelf, it is also a wonderful travelogue for the foody: a book that you can read as well as use. | October 1998