Cheap eats: Rice makes for ideal college meal

A 10-pound sack of white rice usually costs betwen $10 and $15 but yields nearly 100 servings, making it a cheap, versatile food. (Kevin Gross / The DePaulia)
A 10-pound sack of white rice usually costs betwen $10 and $15 but yields nearly 100 servings, making it a cheap, versatile food. (Kevin Gross / The DePaulia)

For many college students, food can seem like one of those costs that get in the way of more important things, like textbooks or whiskey. Cooking, specifically, can seem both expensive and time consuming, and for many it can seem easier to live on a diet of Subway and frozen pizza.

Yet, there are many ways in which students can make the act of cooking delicious, easy, cheap, and (slightly) healthier. Thus, with the introduction of this column, lets take a look at the powers of rice.

Why rice? Because it can be used as a base for many dishes, easily cooked in bulk, and perhaps best of all it is extremely cheap.

rice recipeA 10-pound sack of uncooked white rice costs approximately $10-$15, and will produce around 90-100 servings of cooked rice, equaling a cost of 10 to 16 cents per serving.

Conversely, lets look at the prices of other starch foods. A 24 slice loaf of bread will cost approximately $1.75-$2.50. Assuming most servings are about two slices, this puts the cost per serving at 15 to 20 cents per serving. A package of pasta will cost about $1.25 to $2.50 and contains about four servings, putting the cost at 31 to 62 cents per serving. Although these differences may not sound like much, over the course of a year it could make a big difference in your wallet.

Most readers will, assumingly, not be eating such massive amounts of rice, but smaller bags — commonly found in either two or five pound bags — can be easily found, at a price that is only marginally more expensive per pound than bulkier purchases.

But now the inevitable question: what can be done with rice? A first glance at a bag filled with huge amounts of dried grain can seem intimidating to utilize, especially compared with ready-to-eat breads.

However, bulk cooking of rice can be easy. If you have a specialized rice cooker appliance, all the better. However, stovetop cooking of rice remains relatively easy as well. Except for a few brands sold at ethnic groceries, most rice should have clear cooking directions on the length of time or amount of water needed to cook.

One aspect that is often not mentioned is that it can be good to rinse rice of excess starch if a less sticky texture is desired; simply run the faucet through the rice pot, dump water carefully and repeat four to six times. Conversely, rice can be soaked in its cooking water about 30 minutes to an hour ahead of cooking if a fluffier texture is desired.

From here, finish the cooking and find yourself with a finished pot. A general rule of thumb is that one uncooked cup of rice will produce two to three cups cooked, with one serving totaling about three-quarters cooked rice.

It can be good to cook extra quantities to be stored and used throughout the week, as rice can be quickly reheated when time is pressing. An easy and quick meal can involve something as simple as a sunny-side-up egg and sautéed onions on top of leftover rice, with hot sauce serving as a good condiment.

Additionally, fried rice can be a delicious way to use up leftovers of all types, from rice to meat to vegetables. These toppings do not have to be “traditionally Chinese.” Ingredients from kale to chopped bacon strips can be used in fried rice, all to surprisingly good effect.