So many exciting grains have hit the market in recent years that I had forgotten about one of my favorite dishes, this deeply colorful wild rice salad. Subtly packed with vegetables – finely chopped to blend in with the glossy dark kernels – with the added crunch of almonds and sweetness of dried cranberries, this is a superbly versatile concoction.
Serve it alongside chicken, beef or fish, spoon it over a green salad, or enjoy it with an omelet. It’s wonderful warm and just as delicious cold. Prepare it at leisure ahead of time, and it’s every bit as good the next day.
All that, and it’s non-dairy, gluten free – vegan, even. Without even trying.
In the world marketplace, wild rice – a nutritious grain with more protein per calorie than quinoa – hasn’t hit the big time outside of North America. The corn of Mesoamerica has taken over the world, but wild rice, North America’s other native grain, remains a relatively local small crop.
Wild rice is the grain of semi-aquatic grasses found in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada as well as areas of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Now, American wild rice is largely cultivated in paddies in Minnesota and California, while Canadian wild rice is still mostly harvested from natural bodies of water.
Because wild rice crops produce unpredictably and are not easy to harvest – ducks and geese love to feed on the grains, which ripen at an irregular rate – wild rice is not commonly sold in large quantity and is often mixed into wild rice blends. Amazon is a good source for undiluted wild rice if you have trouble sourcing it locally or want to stock up.
This recipe makes huge amount, but I doubled it for a recent party. Everyone loved it – even the veggie doubters – and it was a happy complement to my chicken Marbella. It’s a lot of chopping, but putting the actual dish together is easy.
Cook the wild rice in salted water, like pasta. Drain and pour in a large bowl.
The prep was the time-consuming part, but I chilled out with my chopping board, knife and my iPod playlist and considered it meditation time. But you could get it done very quickly in a food processor.
I soak raw onions in water to take the edge off.
Veggies are basic – celery, carrots, red peppers and onions – but mixed with the wild rice it all blends into a flavorful crunch. And it looks very festive.
Dressing made with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper.
Toasted slivered almonds – I zoned out a bit too much and had to pick out some charred ones – and dried cranberries. Golden raisins are fantastic too.
If you’ve resolved to eat more healthfully in the new year, this is a pretty great way to start. My friend Jenny, who can out-eat my kids on sweets, loved the wild rice salad so much she had an additional helping of it along with her dessert. That’s my kind of balanced meal.
Wild Rice Confetti Salad
Served warm in winter or cold in summer, this is a fresh and flexible side dish any time of year. Easy to make ahead of time (mostly a bunch of chopping), it keeps well for a buffet or potluck. Adapted from the now-closed Vicki Lee Boyajian Cafe in Needham, MA, whose recipe was published in Gourmet.
- 1/2 pound wild rice (about 1 1/2 cups), rinsed
- 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 bell peppers (mix of colors is nice) cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted until golden
- 1/2 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt (at least 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt for dressing; more for cooking wild rice)
- Pepper (at least 1/4 teaspoon for dressing)
- In a large saucepan bring 5 cups salted water (salted enough so you can taste it) to a boil. Add wild rice and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kernels are tenderly chewy, with some puffed open, about 35-40 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
- Add vegetables and raisins/cranberries and mix with wild rice.
- In a bowl whisk together vinegar, oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over salad and mix well. Adjust seasonings (vinegar, salt, pepper) as needed. Toss with almonds before serving.
- Salad may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.
- Feel free to substitute vegetables – this recipe is very adaptable.
- For a milder onion bite, soak diced onions in cold water and drain before adding to salad.
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