Back to Front Vintage Rice with Pomegranate

Research­ers have been por­ing over not the front but the back of the Bayeux tapestry, to prove that it wasn’t woven by dif­fer­ent teams of nuns in sev­eral sep­ar­ate pieces, but by the same group of people in one long length. After all, the back of a work of art says as much about its cre­ator as the front.

My Great Auntie Susie loved sew­ing, knit­ting and crochet of all kinds. But when I took her to the Vic­toria & Albert Museum to see the work of the great tapestry artist Kaffe Fas­sett, she had abso­lutely no interest at all in the beau­ti­ful artistry on dis­play. ‘I want to see the sew­ings’, she kept repeat­ing crossly. ‘I don’t want to see the front. I want to see the back.’ Her meas­ure of real crafts­man­ship was how beau­ti­fully Kaffe Fas­sett had fin­ished off his threads at the back of the can­vas. Sev­eral times, she tried to creep behind a dis­play to peer at the neat­ness of the ‘sew­ings’ and each time we were warned not to get too close. Finally, she could bear it no longer; she grabbed one of the canvases and lif­ted it up to get a bet­ter look. We were politely asked to leave, but not before she pro­claimed that, accord­ing to her stand­ards, Fas­sett had done a good job.

I love the work­ings of an object: the half-finished paint­ing with pen­cil marks show­ing through, the hand-thrown pot with the indent­a­tion of a thum­b­print or the drag of a fin­ger­nail. I even love the sound of an orches­tra as it tunes-up before a con­cert. It lays itself bare in all its ragged, dis­cord­ant imper­fec­tion, like a host­ess before the party starts, dressed in posh frock and high heels but hair still in curl­ers. An orches­tra tuning-up always makes me think of the great sitar player Ravi Shankar at the Con­cert for Bangladesh in 1971. ‘Thank you’, he said testily, as he fin­ished his pre­par­a­tions and the audi­ence star­ted to applaud. ‘If you appre­ci­ate the tuning-up so much, I hope you’ll enjoy the play­ing more.’

This is a dish in which all the sew­ings, the work­ings, the ingredi­ents and the method are laid bare. There’s no con­ceal­ment, no obfus­ca­tion, no trick­ery. It’s pure, simple, hon­est and above all deli­cious and every com­pon­ent can be seen clearly. And yet there is a mys­tery; the taste of the rice. It may look like per­fectly stand­ard bas­mati rice. But this is vin­tage bas­mati rice. Like Stra­di­vari viol­ins, the best har­vests of bas­mati rice become finer over time. This par­tic­u­lar Tilda vin­tage is from 2006 and the dif­fer­ence was appar­ent as soon as I bur­ied my nose in the packet. It has a stronger, more toasted aroma and the fla­vour, when cooked, is both nutty and del­ic­ate. It seemed cruel to plonk some­thing on top of it; hence my back to front rice salad that is both refresh­ing and refined and in which the rice is the star.

Back to Front Vin­tage Rice Salad

Serves 4

  • 40g of vin­tage bas­mati rice per person
  • 1 cucum­ber, peeled and cubed
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Large hand­fuls of fresh flat leaf pars­ley, cori­ander and mint, chopped
  • Seeds of 3 pomegranates
  • 4 table­spoons clear rice vinegar
  • 4 level tea­spoons caster sugar
  • Salt and black pepper

I tried two dif­fer­ent meth­ods to cook the rice: first, soak­ing it in a bowl of cold water for half an hour before cook­ing it in a small amount of water with the lid on. My second method was to simply rinse the rice well and then sim­mer it very gently in an open pan. The second method pro­duced a more dis­tinct tex­ture and bet­ter sep­ar­ated grains.

When the rice is cool, add the herbs, cucum­ber, spring onions and seeds. Mix the vin­egar with the sugar and season­ing and then pour over the rice, stir­ring to coat it well.

This salad, with its zingy, sharp dress­ing, is per­fect with grilled sal­mon. It’s a dish that my Great Auntie Susie would have approved of, given that it reveals its ‘sew­ings’ so clearly and hon­estly. And she adored pomegranates. She would pull them apart and spear the seeds with a dressmaker’s pin from her sew­ing box. And so the post about the back to front salad that star­ted with the stitch­ing of the Bayeux tapestry comes full circle. It ends with a pin.