Hill Climbing in Swamp Country

A serving is 1/2 cup. 
or, Spicy Rice: Another Weapon in the Arsenal.
We had several big hills to climb  when C was diagnosed with diabetes. Two of them were 
1. serving size and (believe it or not),
2. rice. 

Pre-diabetes (P.D.), a serving of spaghetti and sauce was "whatever will fill the dinner plate plus however much sauce will not spill over," not an artful arrangement of 1/2 cup pasta and 1/4 cup sauce. And since C is a good ol' South Louisiana boy, all the comfort foods he grew up seem to be rice-based. Red beans and rice. White beans and rice. Poor Man's Stew over rice. (This last dish is a sausage-onion-potato gratin of sorts poured over a huge serving of rice per diner.) I remain confused why starches are poured over starches, but hey--we used to eat pinto beans and  potatoes on the same plate. For the uninitiated or northerly oriented, rice is used in south Louisiana with the frequency that potatoes were used in the Appalachians where I grew up, which is to say, all the time. If it can be eaten, it can be eaten better on rice. (Need proof and a laugh? This 19-second CAJUN SMURF video our dear friend Buddy shared with us says it all!) The only time I ate rice as a kid was Minute Rice. It was a special treat, and we ate it like I used to eat grits: drowning in sugar and butter. I have long since mended my ways, I promise. When I married my Cajun boy, he brought his own battered electric rice cooker to our joint home and taught me how to use it to good--if not diabetic-friendly--effect. Wherever you are from, I'm sure you bang your head on the same conclusion almost immediately after you or someone you love is diagnosed: all the "best" foods are carb-heavy and fat- and salt-full. 

Enter diabetes in 2007, and his favorites became off-limits. Two tablespoons of red beans over four tablespoons of rice (all he could have to make the total carbs fit his meal plan) was, in his words,  "just enough to make me mad." He was quickly discouraged, thinking he was doomed to salads and dry chicken breasts for life. Like most Southerners having really tasty food is as essential as the train is in Chicago: you can get around by walking, but why would you?

After realizing that there was not much I could do to health-ify the standbys his Momma made him to make them diabetic-friendly without messing with the flavor he expected (and I did try!), I branched out and really started looking at other cuisines. I wanted bright, intense flavors that might in some small way make up for the combined losses of his childhood favorites and the reduction of salt and fat. (His Momma would cut the ham off the fat, save the ham, and put the FAT in the "vegetable" soup, God bless her soul!) If I couldn't give him what he loved and longed for, I could at least try to distract him.

Though I really watch serving sizes, I still serve rice and potatoes. Since C can have so little of either, I use seasonings and textures (tooth, bite, whatever you want to call it, I mean how it feels in the mouth) to make every bite count. Store-bought Spanish rice mixes have about the same carb count as the spicy rice below, but they have much, much less flavor and are kind of stiff to chew. Why waste the carbs on something mediocre when there's an alternative that takes roughly the same time and only slightly more effort? 

We think the “joy-to-carb” ratio of this rice is worth the (carb and minimal time) expense.

Spicy Rice
Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Carb Count: Total dish, about 98 carbs. That's 24.5 per half-cup serving. {Add two small tacos filled mostly with veggies and a side salad, and you have a Tex-mex dinner for around 60 g carbs}.
Serves: four 1/2-cup servings

1 t oil (canola or olive)
1 1/2 t cumin
1 1/2 t oregano
1 T chili powder
1 1/2 t concentrated tomato paste (in a tube)
1/2 t salt (or to taste)
1/2 t Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning (or a dash of cayenne if you're deprived)
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup orange bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced fine
3 T chopped shallots or onions
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup brown or Zatarain’s* white rice
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Ro-Tel tomatoes (I used mild.)
1 T lime juice
2 T chopped cilantro

1. Toast spices to bring out their fullest flavor. Do this on med-high heat in bottom of a Dutch oven, stirring the dry spices around until they're aromatic. Add the oil and chopped vegetables; stir and sauté until tender.
2. Add water and stock. Bring to a boil. Add rice, then cover and cook on HIGH 5 minutes. Reduce to MEDIUM heat and cook just until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. (Dried-out rice is less than appetizing, so snatch that pot off the heat the minute the rice is tender.) Stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Got leftovers? Save 1/2 cup for Texas Two-Step Soup! (Recipe soon!)

*Check your rice for carb count, since--depending on process and who-knows-what-else--the counts seem different by brand.  

Why do I name Zatarain's? No, I am not paid to endorse it. And yes, it is a white rice, which means it has a higher glycemic index than brown. But it's a local brand that is idiot-proof. It just will. not. clump. Or get sticky. Or do anything else annoying. As a neophyte rice cooker, I tried every brand out there of both white and brown rice, but the texture and taste Zatarian's is C's favorite to eat and my favorite to cook. When I can "hide" the rice in amongst other center-stage textures and tastes, I do use brown or a mixture, but he just cannot get used to the tooth of brown rice when it's the star texture ingredient. Our philosophy is that it's better to go ahead and have 1/2 cup of a higher-GI food that satisfies than the same amount of something that leaves him poking around in the cabinets after dinner looking for something that will. 

{A caveat about the nutrition information and "diabetic friendly" assertion:  I am not a nutritionist. I am the chief cook and bottle washer for a type 1 diabetic who enjoys good food. I watch carbs, portion size, salt, fat, and calories in that order on his behalf, as suggested in our year of diabetic counselling. I explain here what we learned and what we (mostly) apply. It's not meant as medical advice, only friendly encouragement to run out today and find your own diabetic nurse and nutritionist. It's made all the difference to us.}

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Here's the carb breakdown, in case you make your own changes:

Carb counts from item packaging and this site.

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