Rice Cakes with a Sesame Crunch

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 complement 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.

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