Rice rules at my house—we like short grain, long grain, brown, white, sticky, Basmati, Jasmine, you name it. But I have to admit that even with all those options, rice can get, well, kinda boring. Sauce only does so much to spruce up another day of rice.

So when I ran across a recipe for rice cakes, I knew my kids would be eager to give it a try. The first time I served these cakes alongside a traditional stir-fry loaded with marinated chicken and fresh veggies. My kids went for the cakes and I ended up with a week’s worth of stir-fry leftovers. Now, I plan on the rice cakes taking center stage (or at least being a feature instead of a side) when I make them. I plan on about three cakes per person—they’re packed with rice so they fill you up fast!

Now that rice cakes have become a regular on our dinner menu, we’ve started to tweak the recipe. Often I’ll add fruit zest to perk up the flavor of the cakes and help them to compliment whatever main dish I’m serving—after all, these don’t just have to be served with stir fry. With pork, I add a little orange zest, Thai dishes meld well with a little lemon; I’ve even made Mexican rice cakes by adding lime zest, a little Chili powder and a splash of Tabasco sauce for a kick.

To add even more fun to the meal, stick a cooked bean in the middle of one of the cakes and let your kids know that whoever gets the bean gets a prize—maybe she gets to chose a special dessert after dinner or maybe he has to help cleanup all the dishes (hey, doing dishes can be a reward, right?).

I always make a big batch of the rice cakes—here’s why: First, my kids eat them at dinner, for snacks, I even freeze them to reheat later. Second, sad to say, but not all of your rice cakes will turn out perfectly. Usually, I have about three that don’t survive the flip from the top, sesame-seed coated side to the bottom. It’s just how it goes—no amount of careful prep prevents a few rice cake fall aparts. My kids are more than happy to eat up my mishaps.

Ready to reinvent your rice? This recipe takes a little work to put together, but the cakes are fun to eat for dinner or you can even eat them cold for an unusual picnic treat.

Recipe for Sesame Rice Cakes
Inspired by a recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine.
Prep time: 30 minutes (+rice cooking time)
Servings: 5 people (20 cakes)

6 cups cooked rice (2 cups uncooked Basmati rice)
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon lemon, lime or orange zest, optional
4-6 teaspoons sesame seeds
4-6 Tablespoons cooking oil

Cook rice according to package directions. With my rice cooker, the ratio is two-to-one, two cups water to one cup rice. Let the rice cool to room temperature (you can also use leftover rice from a previous meal).

In a large bowl, combine the rice, sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and salt (and zest, if you’re using it). Stir with a wooden spoon or heavy spatula.

Spray a ¼-cup measuring cup with cooking spray. Press rice mixture firmly into the measuring cup and then gently release the molded cake onto a baking sheet that has been lined with wax paper. Repeat until you’ve used up all the rice—there should be around 20 cakes. Gently press a small amount (about ½ a teaspoon) sesame seeds onto each rice cake.

Heat up a large, flat-bottomed skillet or griddle. Add 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil. Cook the rice cakes with the sesame seed side down for around 7 minutes. Flip the rice cake carefully to the other side and cook for an additional 7 minutes (the cake should be golden brown). I use my fingers to flip the cakes. If you’re using a griddle you may be able to fit all of the cakes in one batch; if not, repeat with each batch of rice cakes. Add additional cooking oil when needed.

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