Forbidden Black Rice Salad with Red Lentils Zucchini & Fennel
Well ok, the rice was black and the only market that it came from was the Asian supermarket... but still! That "forbidden rice" certainly makes a statement on any plate now, doesn't it? Fortunately, the other ingredients were colorful enough to hold their own visually... and flavor-wise, along with some subtle Asian spices, they went to make a wonderful combination with the nutty, chewy rice... mmm! What a nice change for a rice salad!
Fennel and star anise, two favorite flavors in one wonderful dish! I flavored the rice with star anise to compliment the sweetness of the fennel- both bringing the mild flavor of the zucchini and the earthiness of the lentils and rice together so well with Hoisin and sweet chili sauce, dressed with a little sesame oil and finished with some freshly crushed Szechuan peppercorns... oh yes- easier than it looks and tastier than you'd think!
I began with the rice, which as I had forgotten to soak it, took a good 15 minutes longer to cook... but you know what? So what!?! You can't have everything in life- and either you have to plan in advance and sacrifice the hours soaking time simply because you HAVE the time to spare... or you wait a little longer whilst the rice is on the boil- either way is good!
I boiled the rice with a clove of garlic, a slice or two of ginger, a star anise and of course a little salt. It took about 45 minutes in all... which IS a long time- but hey! This is something a little out of the ordinary and special! And whilst the rice was simmering away, I was able to prepare the rest of course... so it is all good! The important thing with this kind of black rice, is that it needs to be rinsed... 4-5 times at best- until the water that drains off is almost clear- this is important as the rice is otherwise rather starchy and will become very sticky.
"The rest" consisted of one small zucchini, sliced on the diagonal, about as much in sliced fennel and red onion, and half of a small carrot, finely diced. These all went into a frying pan with a little finely chopped ginger and a splash of peanut oil, to be stir-fried for 4-5 minutes at a fairly high heat. After that time, I added a little light soy sauce, about a tablespoon of Thai sweet chili sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. I tossed these together and set the pan to one side- the residual heat kept the zucchini cooking for a while longer, but the vegetables retained their bite and texture and the flavors were able to infuse together... simple! Didn't I tell you it was?
After 30 minutes or so, I added the red lentils to the rice- I used 2 cups of each for this double serving. I added a little more liquid and returned it to the heat for a final 10 minutes of cooking, then let it sit with the heat turned off to continue steaming for a while longer. Once it was finished... of course, the red lentils had become almost as black as the rice! But that was more than ok... the flavor of them cooked together was really earthy, nutty and delicious. I added a little sesame oil and oyster sauce to the lentils, along with a squeeze of lime juice... and was then ready to plate up!
As you can see from the pictures- I tried serving it in 2 ways... either fussy and pretty or casual and fun! Both work great- and of course both taste the same! So just make it in the way that suits your dinner occasion best... or just make it for 2 different occasions! Either way- I hope you enjoy it!