But bread is expensive these days, and pasta is limited in it's application (yes, yes, there are piles upon piles of cookbooks with pasta recipes... but in the end, it's still pasta). Which brings us to rice. Rice, bought in bulk, is INCREDIBLY inexpensive, either in white or brown rice varieties. In Chinatown you can pick up a 20 lbs bag of long-grain, white jasmine rice from Thailand for $11 - $20 bags of brown rice can be found for as little as $12.
As for storing it, with holiday time about, offices and homes are going to be filled with those huge cans of popcorn and pretzels that vendors and relatives send out as end of the year gifts/bribes. Coincidentally, a 20 lbs bag of rice fits PERFECTLY in one of these tins, so Post-it Note dibs on one of these cans and bring it home for rice storage. They're pretty much airtight, so you don't have to worry about bugs, and the rice keeps forever as long as it's dry.
As for preparing it, it's simple - 2 parts water to 1 part rice, bring to a boil then simmer until little holes appear in the surface of the rice (the eyes of the rice, as they're called). Or just buy a cheap rice cooker. I HEARTILY recommend this, as it saves you a LOT of hassle and burning/wasting of rice, and it's incredibly nice and convenient to be able to just dish some rice in a bowl and toss some soy sauce or Furikake on it as a snack. (Furikake is a delicious Japanese seaweed topping for rice.) Cheap rice cookers (get one with a non-stick pot), Furikake, and other "Asian" condiments are available at Pearl River Mart on Broadway between Grand and Broom.
Rice is an incredibly versatile foodstuff - perfect for sides, entrees, soups and even in salads (try adding some room temperature brown rice to your next salad - fantastic!). Here then is just one, super cheap and super easy recipe for rice that can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
THAI RICE SOUP
1-2 cups white jasmine rice (cooked) (you can use brown, or noodles even too)
3/4 cup finely chopped celery (1 stalk)
3/4 cup finely chopped scallion (1 or 2 stalks)
3/4 cup chopped cilantro (also called Chinese parsley or coriander)
1 tablespoon of diced/finely julienned ginger root
2 tablespoons of preserved cabbage **(see below)
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon (more to taste) hot chili paste or chopped hot peppers
2 tablespoons fish or soy sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
(** You can get a jar of preserved cabbage from Chinatown when you're buying your rice. One jar lasts for many many months if you eat this regularly, and never goes bad. Preserved cabbage typically comes in a neat little brown ceramic or glass container.)
For the soup base, use either:
- One of those Ramen noodle packs you have lying around
- Broth Boullion Cubes or Powder (Cheap Jacks 99-cent store currently has jars of chicken and beef broth powder that makes tons of soup. For vegetarians, Vegebase is a fairly affordable vegan broth.)
- Or just boil then simmer chicken parts (which they also sometimes have at the 99-cent store) in enough water to cover until they're cooked through, use that liquid as broth and then use the meat in the soup as well.
Put the rice in a large soup bowl, and then on top add the cilantro, scallions, celery, ginger, and preserved cabbage. Then pour the hot, boiling broth over to the ingredients, which will cook the vegetables to perfection, then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly.
If you want to get fancy, you can lightly toast the garlic in vegetable oil in a frying pan, til it's golden brown, then pour both the oil and the garlic in the soup. Delicious!
This dish costs maybe $1-$2 tops when you break everything down. And the great thing is, you can change it as you see fit - make the broth from pork meatballs, add or use different chopped up vegetables, like bean sprouts, carrots, etc... Toss in some shrinp! Play around with it and have some fun!