Nutritious Recipe: Brown rice with fennel and beans, gluten-free, vegan.

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By Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, CDE

INDIA New England Columnist

Turn brown rice from boring to brilliant, with this easy, nutrient packed recipe!

© Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

© Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

As a Registered Dietitian, I can almost predict the reaction I get from my patients when I suggest incorporating brown rice into their meals to get the whole grain benefits. I either get a skeptical, “you gotta be kidding me ” look, or a strong protest, “but it’s so tasteless!” The fact of the matter is that, with a few simple ingredients, you can transform plain and mundane brown rice to creamy and delicious! What’s more-the recipe packs an array of nutrients such as beta carotene or Vitamin A from carrots, antioxidants from garlic and fennel, protein and fiber from the beans, as well as B vitamins and fiber from the brown rice. By combining whole grains from the brown rice with protein from the beans and healthy fats from olive oil, along with veggies to boot, the recipe incorporates the key elements of a complete meal, all in one bowl!

Beans are an inexpensive source of nutrients. © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Beans are an inexpensive source of nutrients, and pack a hefty amount of fiber per 1/2 cup serving. © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.


  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped garlic
  • 1 medium carrot, about 3/4 cup, peeled and sliced into 1/4 ” semi-circles
  • 2 stalks of fennel, about 1 cup, stems chopped, into 1/4 “-1/2 ” pieces
  • 1/4 cup fennel leaves, coarsely chopped + 1/4 cup for garnish
  • 1 cup raw, California brown basmati rice, pre-soaked in boiling hot water for several hours, water discarded before using*
  • 1 cup red or pink canned beans, washed and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3.5 cups + 2 tbsp unsalted vegetable broth (or chicken broth), if desired
  • 1.25 tsp salt, or per taste


  1. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a thick bottomed large saucepan.
  2. Add the freshly chopped garlic, and saute for a minute, until garlic turns a pale golden brown. Regulate heat to ensure that the garlic does not burn.
  3. Now add onions, sauteing until  they turn soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Bring the unsalted broth to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan.
  5. Add the turmeric, ground cumin, ground fennel, chopped carrots, whole chopped fennel, and fennel leaves, stirring them into the onion mixture.
    © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

    © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

  6. Stir in the brown rice and salt into the onion-veggie mixture, until well incorporated.
    © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

    Brown rice is sautéed with carrots, fennel, garlic and onions. © Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

  7. Add the boiling broth, turn the heat to high and stir the mixture for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Now turn the heat to low, cover pan with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  9. Gently fold in the rinsed, canned beans
  10. Garnish with the remaining fennel leaves and serve hot.
© Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

© Copyright, December, 2015, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Chef’s tip: The rice in this recipe is somewhat al dente if you use the suggested amount of broth. Increase to 4 cups of broth if you prefer to eat rice with a softer/mushier texture. If you are unfamiliar with cooking brown rice, an easier option would be to cook the raw brown rice separately in broth per package directions. Follow recipe exactly as noted, except fold in the pre-cooked brown rice in step 6 and omit steps 7 and 8.

A Registered Dietitian’s tip: 

Beans are a power house of nutrients, providing healthy carbohydrates, proteins, B vitamins, as well as potassium and magnesium. A 1/2 cup of cooked beans or  lentils can pack anywhere from 6, to up to 10 grams of fiber. Talk about getting the biggest bang for your buck!

Shortfall nutrient: Despite all the accumulating evidence touting the benefits of fiber, it sadly remains a “shortfall” nutrient with most Americans consuming barely 15 grams per day. Less than 5% of most age and gender subgroups have usual intakes of fiber that meet the adequate intake (AI) level of 25 to 38 grams/day identified by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

You may want to double the beans in this recipe to increase the amount of fiber per serving.

*Disclaimer: Please note that rice, and in particular brown rice has been associated with increased arsenic intake. Please scroll down for more information about arsenic in the food supply, what you can do to reduce your risk, and resources you could go to, for further information.

What you should know about arsenic: There has been some concern about arsenic in the food supply, in particular fruit juices, and rice based products. Although arsenic is found naturally in soil and groundwater, it is the inorganic form that is toxic, associated with cancer, skin lesions, neurotoxicity and diabetes.

Why does rice have higher levels of arsenic? Unlike most other crops, the rice paddies are repeatedly flooded with water, to 1/3 of the rice stalk height. As a result, it’s roots readily absorb arsenic from the groundwater and soil. Brown rice has a higher nutrient content than white, however polished white rice has a lower arsenic content as the polishing process strips the outer layers where the arsenic is concentrated.

So what can you do to reduce your own exposure?

  • Eat a varied diet (one should do that anyway to optimize nutrient intake), and try out alternative whole grains to rice such as quinoa, barley, oats, couscous, buckwheat or  bulgur. This will limit your exposure to arsenic from the food supply.
  • Boil brown rice in a lot of water (as you do with pasta), then discard the water. Evidence suggests that can lower arsenic levels.
  • Avoid rice originating from South central states such as Arkansas. These states have the dubious distinction of growing rice with higher levels of arsenic compared to the rest of the country, owing to the liberal use of arsenic containing pesticides used on the cotton crop in that region. Rice grown in California (used in this recipe), is believed to have lower levels of arsenic.

For more information, please visit the FDA  site as well as the consumer reports website.

Nutrient analysis: is an independent website that is not in any way affiliated with this blog.

Nutrient analysis: is an independent website that is not in any way affiliated with this blog.

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for informational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your personal physician or registered dietitian for recommendations tailored to your specific needs.

Sangeeta Pradhan
Sangeeta Pradhan

(Pradhan is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 15 years of experience in nutritional counseling. She is the Diabetes Coordinator at Charles River Medical Associates, a physician practice group where she leads a team of Nurse. She will write about nutritious recipes.

Pradhan is also the President of the Central Mass Dietetic Association. Her mission in life is to translate the complex science of nutrition into easy to implement, practical guidelines for the consumer thus empowering them to take charge of their health.)



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