Rice: Horchata , Basmati and Betty Crocker's Helper

TIMES STAFF WRITER

September is National Rice Month and a good time to try new and different rice products. One that's just come on the market is Mahatma Instant Horchata, made by the company that produces Mahatma Rice.

Horchata is a traditional Mexican drink made by soaking rice, then grinding it and adding milk, water, sugar and flavorings. This beverage is consumed in 90% of the Latino households in Los Angeles, according to Mahatma's consumer survey, and is likely to be on hand at Mexican restaurants and snack stands.

The powdered mix comes in two flavors--strawberry and original cinnamon. It is packed, along with a plastic measuring scoop, in a 15-ounce container that yields 18 one-cup servings. Mixing instructions are bilingual but not the ingredients list, which includes something you won't find in homemade horchata : coconut oil. Chains including Lucky and Vons carry the mix. The suggested retail price is $2.19.

At its best, basmati rice is wonderfully aromatic, long-grained and flaky. But not all brands cook up that way. After disappointing results with Thai-grown basmati , I set out to find genuine, high-quality Indian basmati and discovered Tilda rice.

Grown in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, the rice is shipped to England for milling and packing. Tilda basmati was introduced on the East Coast in January and to the West Coast this summer. The brand may be new here, but Tilda is a leading name in England, where the company distributes a variety of products including American long-grain and brown rices.

A 4.4-pound sack of Tilda's enriched basmati is $4.99 at the Bharat Bazaar, 11510 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City. The label provides four cooking methods, including microwave, and a recipe for pea and cauliflower pulao .

Enriched parboiled rice is the main ingredient in two of Betty Crocker's new Skillet Chicken Helpers. One is cheesy broccoli with rice; the other is stir-fried chicken with Oriental-style fried rice. Available in most chains, the Helpers sell for $1.79. They join a line of convenience products that began in 1971, when General Mills introduced its first Hamburger Helper packaged dinner.

There are now 22 Hamburger Helpers, 10 varieties of Tuna Helper and five Skillet Chicken Helpers, which can be used with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, ground chicken or bone-in pieces. The other chicken Helpers are creamy mushroom with noodles, fettuccine Alfredo and creamy chicken with noodles.

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