Friday, December 2, 2011

Wild Rice Salad

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I started laughing the other day when I was flipping through my recipes and realized I have somewhere around 10 different wild rice salad recipes, not to mention recipes for wild rice side dishes, waffles, soup and other items.  Then and there I decided to crown myself the Wild Rice Queen.  Apparently it stuck somewhere in my subconscious because during a three hour bout of carb-and-sugar induced Thanksgiving night insomnia I mentally composed this entire post, complete with visuals.  It made me happy but did nothing for the insomnia.  I even toyed briefly with trying to create the entire post and publish it the next day, but I didn't think I could do it justice that quickly.  Wild rice is too important.  :)  So, my apologies to those of you who had too many leftover turkey sandwiches that really could have used this recipe instead.  Print it out now, so you'll have it ready for other holiday leftovers yet to come.

Wild rice likes to grow in a cold environment, so the primary producers are Minnesota (domestically) and Canada (internationally). If you didn't grow up in the Great White North you might not be familiar with it. I think of it as the northern answer to grits.  Having always been somewhat skeptical about the virtue of grits (aka "white dirt"), I was assured by my new southern friend Charline that I would love her recipe for Tomato Cheese Grits.  OK Charline, back at ya.  You try mine and I'll try yours!

Wild rice is actually not a rice, but the seed of a grass that grows in shallow lakes.  High in protein, lysine and fiber, low in fat and gluten-free, wild rice is the Cadillac of rices, which is one reason why you won't find it very often on restaurant menus.  Even when you do find a dish listed as wild rice, it will often be a mixture of white and brown rice with some wild rice added in.  One of the reasons that wild rice is more expensive than white or brown rice is because it's more difficult to grow and harvest.  Traditional Native American harvesting is done from a canoe using a long stick to bend the grasses down and shake the seeds into the canoe.  Not exactly high volume.  The wild rice produced in Canada tends to be harvested commercially and therefore is less expensive, but I can't tell any difference in taste or texture so that's the version I buy (it's really not that expensive).  If you happen across small boxes labeled "instant" wild rice, I wouldn't recommend buying them.  It might seem less expensive but that's only because the box contains a small amount.  And the pre-cooking and drying that are required to make it instant means the grains are softer and mushier when re-cooked.  Wild rice is definitely not supposed to be soft and mushy.

To enjoy a 100% wild rice dish is a unique taste experience - earthy, nutty, very flavorful and chewy.  Wild rice makes a great winter salad for those reasons compared to the light and delicate lettuce salads of summer.  The rice makes a great palate for virtually any kind of leftover meat - smoked or roasted turkey, pork, chicken, beef, or even duck and pheasant. Of course, you don't need to wait for leftover meat - you could always buy a rotisserie chicken or a thick piece of smoked turkey at the deli. We recently purchased a smoked pheasant from a local grower and I'm already dreaming of a smoked pheasant, wild rice and fresh cherry salad.  Yum!  Besides a wide variety of meats, wild rice goes very well with a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  Looking over my recipes I noticed certain similarities so for the first time in my blogger life I'm going to give you what I call a master recipe with variations.  (See what insomnia can do to you?)

But first we need to talk about cooking wild rice, which is slightly different than cooking white or brown rice.  Wild rice recipes will invariably give you a set time to cook, which is misleading.  In my experience that hardness of wild rice can vary from producer to producer or from year to year.  My advice is to cook for a shorter amount of time than recommended and then start checking.  I saw a visual a few years ago that led me to conclude I had probably been over-cooking my wild rice, so I thought I'd re-create it here.  First you need to rinse your rice (remember it hasn't been as processed as white or brown rice).

Here's what uncooked rice looks like.

Here's what properly cooked rice looks like - the grains are swollen and most have started to split.

Here's what overcooked rice looks like - most of the grains are split wide open and starting to curl.

My source recipe called for cooking the rice for 60 minutes.  I started checking after 45 minutes and concluded the rice was properly cooked at 55 minutes.  The visual of overcooked rice was taken at 70 minutes.  Most of the time it will take 55-60 minutes for properly cooked rice, but I've had it take as long as 70 minutes and as little as 50 minutes.

Most recipes will call for cooking wild rice in water, but I usually use low-sodium chicken broth for added flavor.  Don't expect that all the liquid will be absorbed, you'll just strain it after cooking instead.  Note that the wild rice can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, so this would be a quick salad to toss together after work.

Ok, so now that you have the rice cooked, here are two concepts for a master recipe.

            Elements Common to Both:
            wild rice
            meat - turkey, pork, chicken, beef, duck, pheasant
            chopped spinach or arugula
            toasted nuts - walnuts, pecans or almonds

                              - plus -

             V1:  Fruity                                                     
             fruity vinaigrette                                            
             fresh fruit - grapes, cherries, oranges, blueberries, etc.
             crumbled fresh cheese - blue, goat, etc.         

                              - or -

              V2: Vegetable-y
              mustard and garlic vinaigrette
              fresh vegetables - sugar snap peas, red pepper, etc.
              avocado chunks or crumbled cheese

I'll go into more detailed instructions and measurements in the recipe(s) below.  Yikes!  This is a long post.  I told The Lawyer I had to get it out of my head so I could get some sleep.  There was way too much content on my mental clipboard.  :-)

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Wild Rice Salad
Serves 4-5

Master Recipe Ingredients:
2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup uncooked wild rice
3 cups cooked turkey, chicken, pork, beef, duck or pheasant, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 cups chopped spinach or arugula
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts (coarsely chopped) or toasted slivered almonds

 - plus -

Fruity Version:
¼ cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh orange rind
¼ teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 cup fresh fruit (halved grapes, blueberries, halved pitted cherries, etc.)
1/2 cup crumbled blue or goat cheese

- or –

Vegetable-y Version:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 green onions, sliced
½ red pepper, diced
2 oz sugar snap peas, cut into 1” pieces
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into chunks (or ½ cup crumbled blue cheese)

Rinse and drain the wild rice.  Bring water or broth to boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the wild rice; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes.  Check to determine if grains are swollen and most are split.  If not, check again every ten minutes until done (typically 55-60 minutes total).  Remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool. (May be prepared up to two days in advance.  Keep covered and refrigerated.)

To prepare the vinaigrette, combine the first 8 ingredients from the fruit version or the first 7 ingredients from the vegetable version in a food processor or shake in a jar.

Combine the cooled wild rice, meat, spinach or arugula and (version1) fruits or (version 2) vegetables (not the crumbled cheese, avocado or toasted nuts) in a large bowl.  Add the vinaigrette and toss well.  Serve topped with toasted nuts and avocado or crumbled cheese.

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