Two Years Ago: Smoked Turkey Apple Panini
Inspiration can come from something as simple as peering in your cabinets to see what's lurking in there. I discovered some forbidden rice in my pantry the other day and decided to create a fall-themed entree with it. What, you are probably thinking, is forbidden rice and why do I have it if it's forbidden? Basically it's black rice. Supposedly it was considered the finest rice in ancient China and served only to the Emperor, so it became known as forbidden rice because it was forbidden to the general public. I don't know if that's actually true or not but I like the story. Anyway, I found this black rice at Whole Foods and thought it would be a great contrast to light-colored foods (think grilled halibut or salmon) or colorful foods such as the ingredients in this salad. I always like to discover and try new ingredients that might be a little different than the norm to keep things interesting.
Forbidden rice tastes like brown or wild rice with a nice chewy texture as opposed to the softness of white rice. If you can't find it at Whole Foods or other natural food stores, wild or brown rice would be a good substitute albeit not as pretty. I'm all about pretty food whenever possible, and this deeply black rice is definitely pretty as well as dramatic. In addition to its good looks, black rice is very high in antioxidants and iron so it's good for you as well.
So, to make it fall-ish I added roasted butternut squash, red pepper, sugar snaps, and toasted walnuts with a light vinaigrette.
In case you haven't cooked with butternut squash before, it's the pale-colored squash with the bulb at the end. You probably won't need the entire squash (the smallest I found at the store was a 2 pounder, and you only need a pound) so plan to use the rest in another dish, or check the produce aisle for plastic cartons of already-peeled and cubed squash. If you can't find it already prepared, peel the outside with a vegetable peeler, then cut in half. Scoop out the seeds, then cut the remaining amount that you need into bite-sized (approximately 1" cubes). Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast.
While the squash roasts you can cook the rice and make the vinaigrette. The good news is that everything can be done in advance, or even the night before. To make it a main dish I added cubed smoked turkey from the deli - one of my favorite meats for salads - but you could substitute literally any meat you want, such as chicken, duck, pork, beef, or bacon. It seemed to want some creaminess so that's where the cheese comes in. I used Manchego because I just so happened to have some in the refrigerator. You could, of course, substitute any cheese you like or just leave it out.
I'm calling it a salad because I don't know what else to call it, but you could serve it warm in which case it would seem to be more like a.........what? Casserole? Dinner entree? Who knows. Anyway, whatever it is, it can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. It holds well for several days so it would make a great dish for family gatherings or pot lucks. And of course, you could eliminate the turkey and serve a nice piece of grilled chicken, fish, or pork on top of the rice mixture. Same song, different verse. I was trying to think of what I would call it in that event, but I finally gave up and just decided to call it dinner.
Forbidden Rice with Smoked Turkey, Roasted Squash, and Walnuts
Note: The smallest butternut squashes typically available are about 2 lbs. For that reason, look for peeled and already-cubed squash in your produce aisle, or plan to use the remaining squash in another use.
For the vinaigrette:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
For the salad:
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1” chunks (see note)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup black rice (preferably Forbidden Rice)
½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
15 sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut into thirds
3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
½ cup diced hard cheese (Manchego, Cheddar, etc.)
8 ounces (sliced 1/2” thick) deli smoked turkey, chopped into cubes
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 400d. Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the squash cubes on foil. Drizzle with oil, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss together with your hands. Spread the squash out in one layer and roast for 25 – 30 minutes, turning once with a spatula, until golden and tender. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place rice in a medium saucepan with 1 ¾ cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Let rest off the heat for a few minutes, then drain in a colander and let cool.
While the squash and rice are cooling, make the vinaigrette by combining all ingredients in a food processor or shake in a jar. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
When cooled, add the rice to a large bowl and add the red pepper, sugar snaps, scallions, cheese and turkey. Toss to combine. Add the vinaigrette and toss again. Add the squash cubes and gently toss to avoid breaking up the squash.
Serve in individual bowls garnished with walnuts.
May be made in advance and refrigerated. Add the walnuts just before serving.