Theres no great skill needed to cook rice properly other than choosing the right rice for the job in the first place

Inever understood why people are intimidated by cooking rice until I started reading up on it. The more you read, the more you learn how many varieties there are (more than 40,000!), not to mention all the categories and sub-categories within them. The way to cook rice, then, varies according to texture, size, shape, colour and purpose. The fact that many people swear by a rice cooker suddenly makes a lot of sense.

To hugely simplify a complicated (paddy) field, I usually reach for long- or short-grained rice. Long-grained rice (of which basmati is one) has less starch than short-grained (sushi and paella rice being two), so will be quite light and fluffy once cooked, with each grain distinct.

The difference between brown and white basmati rice, meanwhile, is that the brown still has its outer hull and bran. The result is therefore chewier and nuttier than the hulled, white sort; and, because theres more for the water to get through to cook the rice, it takes longer. But what brown rice requires in patience is more than made up for by the fact you dont have to get the amount of water exactly right: you cook brown rice much as you do pasta ie, in lots of boiling water.

When it comes to the short-grained rice in todays saffron and broad bean dish, its worth investing in proper paella rice: look for the words bomba or calasparra on the packet, because they have the texture youre after firm yet giving, unlike risotto and other short-grain rice.

As long as youve got the right rice, youre free to take liberties wiuth the other ingredients, as Ive done here.

Saffron and broad bean paella

This is by no means a traditional paella in terms of ingredients theres no chicken, rabbit or snails; no seafood, either but the cooking method is. The key to a paella is to simmer the rice uncovered and, crucially, to resist the urge to stir it, so it absorbs all the liquid. If the base develops a nice, crisp bottom, all the better: thats the bit prized by aficionados. This serves four as a side dish or, with a salad, light meal; or bulk it out with grilled seafood or chorizo, as a nod to tradition.

300g podded broad beans (fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
200g paella rice
100ml dry sherry
500ml vegetable stock
150g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 strips finely shaved lemon skin, plus 2 tsp lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
10g flatleaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil, blanch the beans for a minute, then drain, refresh and remove and discard the papery skins.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan (or paella pan) on a medium-high flame. Fry the onion for seven to eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised, then add the garlic and fry for a minute. Add the paprika, saffron, thyme and rice, stir for a minute, to coat all the rice, then add the sherry and reduce for 30 seconds. Stir in the stock, 150ml water, the tomatoes, lemon skin, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Simmer for 20-25 minutes dont stir! until the liquid is absorbed and the rice cooked. Lift out and discard the lemon strips, spoon the broad beans on top of the rice, scatter on the parsley, drizzle with lemon juice and serve at once.

Basmati rice with black cardamom and caramelised onion

This is a lovely side for slow-cooked lamb or any tagine. Serves four.

300g basmati rice
6 black cardamom pods (or 10 green cardamom pods), lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
20g unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into julienne sticks
tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp honey
40g toasted flaked almonds

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Spread out the rice in a high-sided, 20cm x 30cm baking tray.

Put the cardamom, bay, butter and half a teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan. Add 550ml water and bring to a boil. Tip the water over the rice in the tray, and cover tightly with aluminum foil, to seal. Bake for 25 minutes, then set aside, still covered, for 10 minutes. Take off the foil and stir the rice with a fork.

While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium-high flame. Fry the onion for six minutes, stirring a few times, until golden brown, then add the ginger and fry for two minutes. Add the cinnamon and honey, turn the heat to medium-low and cook gently, stirring often, for five minutes, until the onions go dark caramel in colour. Stir in the nuts, spoon on to the rice and serve.

Minty brown rice with wilted greens

Yotam Ottolenghis minty brown rice with wilted greens. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay

This is delicious straight out of the pan, but its also good at room temperature, making it a great dish for the lunchbox. Serves four.

200g brown basmati rice
6 mint sprigs, plus 10g picked mint leaves, roughly chopped, to serve
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
200g swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated, stalks finely sliced, leaves left whole
200g large spinach leaves
70g feta, crumbled into 2cm pieces

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and mint sprigs, and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the rice is soft but still has some bite. Drain and set aside: discard the mint sprigs, but dont worry about any leaves that have fallen off.

In a large saute pan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on a medium-high flame, then fry the garlic for a minute, until light golden brown. Add the chard and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, stir-fry for five minutes, until the stalks are almost soft, then add the spinach. Cover the pan, leave for three minutes, stirring a few times, until the spinach has wilted, then stir in the rice, feta and chopped mint, and serve.

Kombu and ginger sticky rice

This was inspired by a clay pot dish I had at the brilliant Fat Rice in Chicago. You want the rice to stick to the bottom, and crisp up slightly, but you dont need a clay pot: a cast-iron casserole with a thick, heavy base works well, too; just dont use a nonstick pan. Serve it with Asian-style stir-fried chicken, seafood or vegetables, although Id happily eat it on its own with some chilli sauce. You can buy dried kombu, or edible kelp, at large supermarkets, as well as healthfood and Japanese shops, and online. If you cant get hold of any, wakame or dulse make decent substitutes. Serves six.

1 2cm x 13cm piece of dried kombu
15g dried shiitake mushrooms
7cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled, half sliced thin, the rest cut into matchsticks
90ml sake
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sesame oil
500g sushi rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 red chilli, deseeded and cut into thin julienne sticks
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle

Pour 530ml water into a medium-sized round cast-iron casserole for which you have a lid. Add the kombu, mushrooms and sliced ginger, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and set aside, still covered, for 30 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to lift out the mushrooms, kombu and ginger. Finely slice the mushrooms and return to the water. Cut the kombu in half, then cut each half into 2mm-wide strips and return to the water. Discard the ginger.

Add the sake, two tablespoons of soy, the mirin, sesame oil, rice and half a teaspoon of salt to the water, and bring back to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low, stir, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked, all the liquid has been absorbed and a golden brown crust has formed on the bottom of the pan: dont worry if some of the rice is a bit burnt. Turn off the heat and leave to rest, covered, for five minutes.

In the meantime, heat the groundnut oil in a small frying pan on a medium-high flame, then stir-fry the julienned ginger and chilli for two minutes. Add the sesame seeds, cook for a minute, stirring often, until the seeds are golden, then take off the heat and stir in the spring onion and remaining tablespoon of soy. Spoon over the rice and serve.

Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.

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