Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cheap Eats: Puffed Rice!

The Topic: Finding new uses for favorite foods with Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: Growing up, our household did not have "sugar cereals." Anything sweeter than Raisin Bran was totally verboten, and my sister and I could just go ahead and forget anything that involved a cartoon character on the box. My mother referred to sugar affectionately as the "white death," which of course made me desperate to try every possible type of fiberless, over-sugared, candy-colored morning abomination possible. (I was definitely most enticed by Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, despite the fact that they're fictional.) So, in what could probably best be described as a non-stop bender of sugary breakfast bingeing that occurred once I had a driver's license, I ate a lot of cereal. This was not a particularly proud, nor nutritionally balanced, time in my life, but it did teach me the value of cereal. 

Is it just for breakfast? Please. Eating cereal for breakfast is like riding a bike with training wheels. As my palate has matured somewhat past the CFSB point, the simple magic of puffed rice has me totally enchanted. Plus, you can find it just about everywhere, including gas stations, and it's cheap. Does it offer a ton of nutrition? No. Are there cartoon characters on the box? Yes. Can you find more-nutritious, less-cheap organic brands? Yes. But for the purposes of this post, all that really matters is the fantastic snap, crackle, and, oh yes, the pop that puffed rice provides. Here are my three favorite non-breakfast uses for this crunchtastic cereal.
  1. Sushi! This definitely falls under the it's-so-crazy-it-just-might-work category, but go with me. This culinary genius credit goes to Joelle of Vegan Bachelor Soup fame, who a) is fun to make sushi with and b) puts crazy things in her rolls! Like puffed rice! And they are light and crunchy and surprising and wonderful and should be required at all sushi restaurants. One note of caution: eat your awesome sushi promptly, because if the cereal sits next to the avocado or spicy tofuna for too long, it gets soggy, not snappy.
  2. Breading. Someone cleverer than I has likely thought of this already, but it bears repeating. You want something breading in the finest of crunchy coatings? Then here's what you're going to do: smash up some cereal, and bread away. It's a finer coat than panko, crispier than breadcrumbs, and works particularly well with recipes that involve baking the coated item.
  3. Sandwiches. I know! Cereal in sandwiches? What's next, dogs marrying cats? Don't forget, friends, fortune favors the bold. The next time you're making a signature PB&J, put a layer of rice in between the PB and the J. Again, this isn't like adding superfood powder to your smoothie in terms of nutrition, but the sublime texture of something crunchy in the middle of an already-delectable sandwich totally can't be beat. 
The Final Word: Whether or not your foray into the world of cereal experiementation is prompted by years of careful parenting, or simply because you happen to have access to puffed rice and want to do something slightly more interesting than pour coconut milk on it, thinking of your favorite staple foods in new ways can yield fantastic, inexpensive results. Snap!


  1. Are you telling us that the vitamin D in Rice Krispies is vegan. Oh, I would be so happy if that were true! Although in the past I heard other wise :o/.

  2. Top it with 2 chopped cooked potatoes (hot), plus some diced onion, cilantro, pomegranate seeds, plain yogurt, tamarind chutney, and mint chutney (and maybe some finely diced fresh jalapenos or other green chili, if you like spicy) and stir. It's basically bhel puri--my favorite Indian street food. (Use soy yogurt, and it's vegan.)

  3. P.S. Indian stores sell a type of puffed rice that is specifically intended for this. It comes in a giant bag and has a flavor very similar to rice krispies.

  4. Don't stop with rice either. Other grains such as amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are great puffed as well

  5. I love that my eccentricities are finally paying off! Thanks Elizabeth!

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