Billions of people around the world depend on rice for at least a quarter of their diet, and for many of them, rice constitutes more than half of what they eat. It is no wonder that the world’s cooks have plenty of rice recipes to offer—a great number of them still largely unknown in the U.S.

Arroz Con Jaibas Yucateco is rice with shrimp—the way they do it in the Yucatan. As with many rice recipes, the basic ingredients are completely familiar—rice, shrimp, tomatoes, peas, sweet peppers—but the distinction comes in the way they are seasoned. Annatto (achiote) seed, or the Caribbean “saffron,” gives the dish a blush and a Latin flavor. Onion, garlic, a bay leaf and generous use of oregano add savoriness and rich herbal fragrance. Crushed red pepper gives the recipe authority. Chicken stock enriches the rice, and more than a “dash” of dry sherry adds sophistication.

The East Indians are great rice cooks. In a dish called Kitcheri, they combine rice and lentils, making a complete protein. Onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric supply the seasoning. As is typical, the onion, garlic and ginger are first sauteéd to develop and meld their flavors. Then the turmeric and some salt are added. Next, the rice and lentils go in, along with enough water to cover. When all is cooked until the water is completely absorbed, the Kitcheri is ready to be served with 2 tbsps of milk sprinkled on top.

On the island of Tobago a “pilau” of crab is one of the signature dishes. The crab meat is first marinated in lime juice, while onion, garlic and crushed red pepper are sauteéd until the onions are golden. Curry powder is then added, and the mixture is cooked briefly. Next, rice is cooked only long enough to coat the grains. Addition of coconut milk follows, and the rice is then slow-cooked until almost done. At that point, the crab meat is folded in, and all continues cooking until the crab meat is heated.

Pilot recipes for this dish from a foreign land had originally been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc.  (FR1092)

ARROZ CON JAIBAS YUCATECO: (Rice with shrimp, Yucatan style)

2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1⁄4 cup instant minced onion
1 tsp instant minced garlic
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
2 tsps oregano leaves, crushed
1 tsp ground annatto (achiote) seed
1⁄8 tsp ground red pepper
5 cups chicken stock
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 1⁄4 cups sliced sweet red bell pepper
1 bay leaf
1 1⁄2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (fresh or frozen)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1⁄4 cup dry sherry

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, place rice and enough hot water to cover; let stand for 15 minutes; drain; rinse in cold water; drain again. Place rice in a clean towel to dry thoroughly; set aside. Meanwhile, in a cup, combine onion, garlic and 1⁄4 cup water; set aside to soften, about 10 minutes. In a food processor fitted with a metal wing blade, combine tomatoes, oregano, annatto and ground red pepper; process until smooth; remove to a large bowl. Add chicken stock; set aside. In a Dutch oven or a 5-quart oven-proof casserole, heat oil until hot. Add reserved rice and onion mixture; cook until rice is golden, three to five minutes. Pour tomato-stock mixture over rice. Stir in red bell pepper and bay leaf. Cover and bake until nearly all liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Stir in shrimp, peas and sherry. Bake, covered, until shrimp is cooked and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.