Of great culinary potential for summer, but often overlooked, is rice. Long-grain white rice, cooked in broth with herbs and spices, then cooled, makes for a fine, full-flavored pilaf to be enjoyed at room temperature. Relatively bland, it turns robust when prepared with seasonings and tastes best when turned into a salad.

Pilaf is good with grilled food such as satays (skewers of chicken, beef, pork, or cut-up fish steaks). Or, as an absorbent base that can take on flavorings both subtle and fiery as a bed for baked beans and glazed cornish hens or chicken pieces served cool, or with a boned chicken stuffed with herbs and seasonings, roasted and sliced.

White rice, a widespread staple first domesticated in Asia, is better in a salad than the firmer brown rices, which are nutty-Tasting and chewier. What you want is a clean, unhampered taste to start off with.

Since rice kernels are primarily starch, care must be taken to simmer the rice correctly to avoid gumminess and still retain a soft, swollen mass. The grains in a rice salad should be tender and firm yet slightly yielding to the teeth.

Instead of boiling rice in massive quantities of salted water and preparing flavoring agents separately for the salad, cook the rice first in a light chicken broth with the herbs and spices that are the most pungent and have the most depth. Then, finish off the salad with a tossing in oil, vinegar, and some extra savory additions.

To bring out all the good, rounded tastes of the seasoning, thus allowing the rice to take them in, it is best to begin by first saute'ing some of the spices in a small amount of oil. This procedure releases their aroma and sweetness, and at the same time takes away any harshness. Oil blends better with the rice and spices than butter would, and rice destined for a cold salad needs the fluidity of oil for its success, so use a very light olive oil, safflower oil or plain vegetable oil.

Once the aroma starts drifting out of the casserole, the oil has become scented with the spices and it is time to add the rice. Stir the rice once with a fork, and quickly, as frequent stirring activates substances that brings out a gelatinous quality in rice. (Using a pair of chopsticks, by the way, is a quick and effective way both to stir and fluff up rice.)

The rice kernels turn slightly opaque -- which is correct -- after about 2 minutes of cooking in oil. When the rice takes on an overall milky-looking appearance, pour on the broth, stir once, and bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Simmer the rice for the prescribed cooking time; after the rice has absorbed all the liquid, remove the casserole from the heat to rest for 5 minutes. This allows any extra moisture to redistribute itself within the kernels of rice and all the grains to become completely tender yet separate.

Once the rice is enriched with spices and cooked, it is splashed with oil and vinegar and prettied up with diced vegetables, minced herbs, chopped hot peppers, raisins, diced preserved ginger, or peanuts, depending upon the recipe. These salads arenot saturated in dressing but have a light, vaguely shimmery moistened appearance when everything is tossed together.

If you want to steep the rice in a little more liquid (appropriate if you were to add some cooked shellfish or poached chicken pieces to the rice for a light main course), then fold through more oil and vinegar right before serving.

Since the salads are eaten cool, pressing the rice into a mold makes a handsome and engaging presentation. Molds must be well coated with a plain, tasteless oil; their slick interiors keep the rice from sticking and also form an outer protective coating for keeping the salad fresh and fresh-looking.

As for types of molds, I've used small ramekins, a brioche tin, a plain star-shaped mold, and a fluted bread pan, all with success. Lightly pack the rice salad into the mold by layers, pressing down gently on each layer with a small spatula or the back of a spoon. Center your serving plate upside-down atop the mold, then turn the mold rightside-up, tap it once on the kitchen counter top, then carefully remove the mold from the rice. The easiest molds to use are those that have a minimum of small thin ribs or flutes; big, open-spaced molds with sharp angles, and smooth glass bowls make good molds, too.

The following rice salads are excellent when used as a foil for food right off the barbecue, or as one dish among many on a cold supper buffet table: CURRIED RICE SALAD (6 servings)

7 tablespoons light olive oil

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less, to taste)

1 1/2 cups converted rice

3 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons mango chutney

1/2 cup moist currants

1/2 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Salt to taste

Heat 6 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy 3-quart casserole. Stir in the coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, celery seed, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. Cook the spices over moderate heat for 3 to 4 minutes until they release their aroma. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes or until the grains are well coated with oil. Pour in the chicken broth, stir once with a fork, and bring to a slow boil. Cover the casserole and adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers. Cook for 18 to 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the casserole from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, chutney, and remaining olive oil. While the rice is still warm, spoon it into a mixing bowl and stir in the chutney dressing. Fold in the currants. When the rice has reached room temperature, stir in the peanuts and taste the salad to see if it needs additional salt.

Serve the salad from a pretty bowl, garnishing it with a few branches of a fresh herb, if you like.

Note: For a creamier rice salad, fold through 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil right before serving. CHILI RICE SALAD WITH TOMATO, ONION, AND AVOCADO (6 servings)

The impact of a good grade of chili powder is essential to the intensity of this rice salad. I've had excellent results with Gebhardt's chili powder, which is made up of pure chili pepper, cumin, black pepper, oregano, and garlic powder; Gebhardt's does not contain salt.

6 tablespoons light olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chili powder (this amount produces a rice salad of moderate chili strength; add more or less chili powder to taste)

1 1/2 cups converted rice

3 cups light chicken broth

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt to taste

1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 small onion, diced

1 small ripe avocado, peeled and cut into small cubes, and tossed in 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 3-quart casserole. Stir in the chili powder and cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes or until the powder darkens slightly and begins to release its aroma. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes to coat the grains with oil. Pour in the chicken broth, raise the heat to moderately high, and bring the broth to a boil, stirring once only after the broth has been poured in. Reduce the heat so that the broth simmers, then cover and simmer the rice for 18 to 20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

Remove the casserole from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes, covered.

In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, vegetable oil, and salt to taste. While the rice is still warm, turn it into a mixing bowl and stir in the oil and vinegar mixture.

About 15 minutes before serving, fold through the diced tomato, onion, and avocado. Sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top and serve. MINT AND HOT PEPPER RICE SALAD (6 servings)

This rice salad is highly compatible with any kind of skewered food that has been marinated in a soy sauce-based liquid, and grilled. The dressing is sharpened by crushed red pepper, although you could use a small fiery jalapeno, chopped, to add a little zest to the dressing.

6 tablespoons safflower, or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 1/2 cups converted rice

3 cups light chicken broth

1/3 cup oriental seasoned rice wine vinegar (available in the oriental sections of supermarkets and specialty food stores)

1/2 teaspoon (more, or less, to taste) crushed red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons safflower, or vegetable oil

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

Heat the safflower oil in a heavy 3-quart casserole. Stir in coriander and cumin, and cook over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the aromas in the spices are released. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat the grains with oil. Raise the heat to moderately high, pour in the chicken broth, stir once and bring the liquid to a boil. Adjust the heat so that the broth simmers, cover the casserole, and cook the rice over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the casserole from the heat, and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt, and oil. While the rice is still warm, turn it into a mixing bowl and stir in the dressing.

About 10 minutes before serving, fold through the freshly chopped mint. Taste the salad, adding additional salt, if needed.

Garnish the salad with a small bouquet of fresh mint, if you like. GINGERED RICE SALAD (6 servings)

6 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 1/2 cups converted rice

3 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons diced ginger preserved in syrup (available at most chain supermarkets, specialty food stores)

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Heat the safflower oil in a heavy 3-quart casserole. Stir in (ground) ginger, turmeric, and cumin; cook the spices over moderate heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rice and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth, stir once, and bring the liquid to a boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover, and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes. When all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through, remove the casserole from the heat. Let stand, coverEd, for 5 minutes.

Whisk together vinegar and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the rice to a mixing bowl and stir in the vinegar and oil mixture. Fold through the diced preserved ginger. Taste the salad for additional salt and pepper, adding it as necessary.

At serving time, fold in the minced chives. Decorate the salad with extra sprigs of chives, if you like.

Note: For a creamier rice salad, fold through 2 tablespoons safflower oil right before serving. CINNAMON RICE SALAD (6 servings)

The spiciness of the cinnamon in this salad makes it a wonderful companion for the likes of grilled pork kebabs or smoked and glazed spareribs.

6 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 cups converted rice

3 cups light chicken broth

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/3 cup moist golden raisins

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Heat the safflower oil in a heavy 3-quart casserole. Stir in the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves and cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes or until the spices darken a bit and release their aroma. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the chicken broth, stir once, and bring the liquid to a boil over moderately high heat. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover, and simmer the rice for 18 to 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the casserole from the heat, and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil; season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

While the rice is still warm, spoon it into a mixing bowl and stir in the oil and vinegar mixture. Stir in the raisins.

Shortly before serving, fold through the chopped parsley. Taste for additional salt and pepper, adding it if necessary.

Garnish the salad with a small bouquet of fresh mint, if you like.