Key Ingredient

Tiny Grains, Big Meaning

By: The Local Palate

Asha Gomez honors her favorite staple

There’s a Swahili proverb that says, “Rice is all one, but there are many ways of cooking it.” Perhaps there is no other food as unifying and simultaneously delineating. Rice in some form is eaten in nearly every corner of the world, yet the myriad ways it’s prepared run the gamut of possibility. Italians eat arborio in risotto, the Japanese make sake, and the Spanish prepare paella. For chef and cookbook author Asha Gomez, rice has a special kind of duality in her kitchen. In her book My Two Souths, Gomez blends the flavors of her small hometown village in southern India with those intrinsic to the Southern cuisine found in her current home city of Atlanta, where she also owns two restaurants. “My childhood was surrounded by lush rice paddies and fields—it is one of the main crops in Kerala—and the grain appeared in some shape or form at every meal,” Gomez says. “Rice was the great equalizer, found in households rich or poor regardless of caste or creed.” In the American South, rice is very much a part of the historical and cultural fabric as well. “Whether it’s red rice or jambalaya,” she says, “it underscores the culinary synchronicity between the two souths closest to my heart.”

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