Everyday Miracles, Being Changed, and Baked Brown Rice Pilaf

Dear Joey,

I know you have never contemplated a pan of rice cooking, and the miracle that takes place as those little grains simmer in the scalding hot water, expanding ever so slightly over until they become something else entirely.

I can’t blame you. Neither did I, really. In fact, I hardly even noticed rice until the past few years when I began cooking it more often since it’s, well, affordable. To me, rice was always boring, and far too lack luster to really summon up any true excitement over. Even with a good sauce or proper seasoning, it somehow just seemed too plain. Too ordinary to really enjoy.

I have learned the value of rice over the years, and I continue to play around with it because I understand its potential now. Perhaps on its own it isn’t much, but given the right environment, with a little time, care, and attention, it can (and does) transform from something forgettable into something memorable.

Like Baked Brown Rice Pilaf – the rice that I have made countless times this year. The rice that has forever made me think of rice as a true miracle food. Not only is it really quite good (why else would I have made it so often?), but it reminds me of the miracles we pray for, wait for, and even sometimes lose sight of until God reveals His finished work.

First, melted butter. It reminds me that we often feel like we collapse, unable to withstand the heat that we suddenly feel surrounding us. We survive, but we are changed – never to go back to what we were before.

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Next, the aromatics and the seasonings – things and people that surround us, join us, add to our lives (for better or worse) as we wait to see what God is doing. The outcome would not be the same without them.

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Then, the rice. The grains sizzle and pop as they brown.  Things are getting uncomfortable, and we cannot see how this will ever make us better, or how things will ever come to an end. We may even forget that a miracle is possible.

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Finally, the water. It swirls all around us, knocking us off our feet until we find ourselves submerged, somewhat at a loss for what to do next.

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But nothing can really happen until we let the heat change us. The lid goes on and into the oven we go, for a good long while, and behind the scenes a miracle is happening. Sometimes we’re the only ones who can see what’s happening, and sometimes we forget the truth of what is happening to us, focusing only on our current circumstances and losing sight of the hope for what is waiting on the other end.

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But then, when it’s time, it’s over. Out of the oven, the lid comes off, and the miracle is revealed.

So often everyday miracles involve the transforming power found in circumstances that are uncomfortable. The heat. The time. Feeling like we’re drowning and not knowing if we’ll make it to the other side of things in tact. When I make this rice, I remember that whatever hard thing I’m going through has a purpose. And when I wonder if I’ll come out of the heat in tact, I remember this: I will be changed for the better. 

This naturally gluten and dairy free easy rice pilaf method doesn’t take much more time or effort than regular boiled rice, but it yields a side dish that is packed with flavor. It is a go-to recipe in my house, which is a major surprise to me – a fairly reluctant rice eater.  When I first started making it, it contained butter (as described in the story above), but I have since switched to just olive oil to make it naturally dairy free and Emery-friendly. If you choose to use butter, make sure to melt it along with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a medium onion, diced (sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda)
2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 Tablespoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups short grain brown rice (or short grain white rice)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water)

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Method:

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a Dutch oven, warm up the olive oil over medium heat. Once it is shimmering, add the diced onions and cook for about a minute. Add the garlic and stir while you cook for another minute. Then add the salt and parsley. Stir, then add the rice and cook for about three minutes, making sure to stir so that rice does not scorch, and is coated well with the oil.

Next, stir in the chicken broth and vinegar, then bring to a boil. When the liquid starts to bubble, give it a good stir, toss in the bay leaf, and put the lid on the Dutch oven. Bake in the center of the oven (40 minutes for brown rice; 25 minutes for white rice).

Take the pot out and let it sit undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice, and serve.

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