GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

November 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

RICE IS NICE!

This month's column gives me a chance to sing the praises of wild rice! If you are like me, for many years I was intimidated by the supposed high costs of wild rice, and since much of what I had sampled in restaurants didn't excite me, I couldn't be convinced to purchase any rice. Fortunately, I have a dear friend with her own friends and family in Minnesota, the primary home of hand-harvested native wild rice, and she would periodically give me gifts of wild rice that the Ojibwa people had collected in their sustainable style.

Well, when I applied the flavor theories of Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® cooking, I found that wild rice was as delectable as any vegetable! I've always been a huge fan of rice as a subtly-flavored base for other ingredients, but wild rice is much less subtle and much more delicious when properly cooked. If you are using hand-harvested wild rice as I do, the cooking is different from commercially-harvested wild rice. Hand-harvested rice can be cooked in a ratio of 1 part rice to 2 or 2.5 parts water (salted at about 1 t per cup of water), brought to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes; drain and use. Commercially-harvested wild rice can be cooked in a ratio of 1 part rice to 3 parts water (salted at about 1 t per cup of water), brought to a boil and then simmered for 1 to 1.25 hours; drain and use. Some chefs will tell you that the finished grains should only be split, and not curled; frankly, that is the concern of someone with too much time on his or her hands, as it does NOT impact the flavor, and I think the curliness adds an interesting appearance and texture.

As long as I'm in "educational" mode, I'm sure you have heard "Wild rice is not a rice." That is hyperbolic BS perpetuated by non-biologists. Both true rice and wild rice are grasses. True rice is genus Oryza; wild rice is genus Zizania. Both are in the same tribe, Oryzeae, which means they are in the same SUBfamily, Bambusoideae, which means they are in the same family, Poaceae. They are cousins. "Rice" is just a common name with little biological meaning. Don't make mountains out of molehills.

For more information about wild rice, one of the best non-commercial websites is http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/wildrice.html; however, they don't look at the societal impact of using cultivated versus hand-harvested wild rice. Slow Food USA's Ark Project offers additional information at http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ark/wildrice.html (though they misspell the genus). If these aren't sufficient reasons for you to try wild rice, then using the following recipe as a flexible side dish, salad or entrée will break down any barriers!

WILD RICE COMPOTE/SALAD

If your experience with wild rice is via a packaged "wild rice medley," then you have no idea of what you are missing. Sure, wild rice is slightly more expensive than white or even brown rice, but as an occasional treat, it is worth the investment. I was fortunate to receive lots of wild rice from a friend, so I got to experiment with this wonderfully delicious and nutritious grain (high in protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and dietary fiber … not to mention LOTS of flavor!). Wild rice is also higher in niacin, riboflavin and other B complex vitamins than brown rice, and has up to 10% of the RDA for iron). After considerable experimentation, I decided that I liked the following preparation that can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, as a salad or entrée or side dish. Give wild rice (preferably hand-harvested) a try today!

Sauté the onion in a hot skillet with the olive oil or butter until translucent. Add the fruit/peppers, mushrooms (if using), citrus juice, wine/vinegar (if using), salt, pepper and the rice, stirring to mix thoroughly. When mixture is well warmed, add the toasted nuts. Serve immediately, or allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Variations:

Holiday Wild Rice Compote: Your holiday table will stop traffic if you serve the Wild Rice Compote using specifically: orange juice, preferably wine, fresh (halved) cranberries, toasted pecans and thinly sliced scallions. Sauté the white parts of the scallions, add the cranberries, nuts, orange juice, wine (if using), wild rice, and sliced scallion tops. Heat through and serve immediately. The colors are as beautiful as the flavors. Dried cranberries are also delicious in this variation.

Carnivore's Wild Rice Salad: Follow the instructions above to make the Wild Rice Compote. What turns this variation into a full meal is the addition of about 4 oz of the meat of your choice. I have done this with leftover chicken (deboned and cut into bite size pieces that I mix into the rice, or slices that I spread over the top), leftover duck (this is a great combination; I'll sometimes cook duck hindquarters or roast a whole duck just to have bits to add to dishes like this; small pieces can be mixed into the rice, while a big chuck of thigh meat or a breast can be sliced and put on top), pan-seared beef or bison steak (crank up the heat, really brown the outside in some oil, but leave the interior very rare; slice the meat into 1/8 to ¼" slices and fan them over the top of the wild rice) or lamb or pork (bits of leftover roast, or fry up a chop and cut the meat off the bone, removing as much of the fat as possible when you do it).

Smoky Wild Rice Salad I: Fry ¼ lb of smoky bacon until crisp. Remove and reserve the bacon, and discard all but about 2 T of the bacon fat. Proceed with the recipe as for Wild Rice Salad by sautéing the onion in the bacon fat. After the salad is complete, crumble the fried crispy bacon on top, mixing in slightly.

Smoky Wild Rice Salad II: Proceed as for the original Wild Rice Salad. When complete, add about ¼ lb of ham pieces/cubes, or ¼ lb pieces of smoked turkey, or ¼ lb of your favorite smoked fish. Serve immediately, or allow the meat or fish to warm slightly.

Mediterranean Wild Rice Salad I: Sure, wild rice doesn't grow in the Mediterranean region, but don't let that stop you from making this salad. Proceed as for the Smoky Wild Rice Salad I, but substitute ¼ lb of medium diced pancetta (peppery, unsmoked Italian bacon) for the smoky bacon. Be sure to use roasted red peppers in place of the fruit, and certainly include the wine in this version. Optionally, at the end add ¼ to ½ c of small cubes of mozzarella, smoked mozzarella or provolone cheese, or crumbled/grated pecorino, asiago or parmesan cheese, or crumbles/cubes of your favorite bleu cheese, such as gorgonzola. Other voluntary options include ¼ c of your favorite olives, finely sliced, and/or ¼ c of coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts, and/or 2 T coarsely chopped capers.

Mediterranean Wild Rice Salad II: Proceed as for the original Wild Rice Salad, being sure to use roasted red peppers in place of the fruit, and to include the wine. When the wild rice has been added, add ¼ lb diced or sliced prosciutto and allow the mixture to warm through. Optionally, at the end add ¼ to ½ c of small cubes of mozzarella, smoked mozzarella or provolone cheese, or crumbled/grated pecorino, asiago or parmesan cheese, or crumbles/cubes of your favorite bleu cheese, such as gorgonzola. Other voluntary options include ¼ c of your favorite olives, finely sliced, and/or ¼ c of coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts, and/or 2 T coarsely chopped capers.

SIMPLY SENSATIONAL RICE PUDDING

One of my favorite childhood comfort foods was my mother's rice pudding. As a child of the Great Depression, she never wasted anything, even leftover cooked rice. Her version, which she adapted from a recipe similar to the one on page 699 of Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker's Joy of Cooking (1964; New American Library: New York; 849 pp.), was the basis for my subsequent tweaking. I hope that you will not only enjoy this easy dessert, but also that you will use this recipe and philosophy to minimize waste in your own kitchen! If I have leftover rice from another meal, I usually freeze it in two-cup portions; it is great in this recipe, and it's handy for a quick accompaniment to a portion of curry, stew or a pasta sauce (for rice!) that I might want to heat up.

The following proportions may be increased up to four times the stated amount; estimate two servings per basic recipe (i.e., doubling the basic recipe will yield four servings, and so on):

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an appropriately sized baking dish (with a cover, or use aluminum foil) with the butter. Beat the egg in a bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Mix in the milk. Add the sugar and salt to the wet ingredients, and stir together to dissolve the sugar relatively well (you can tell by the decreasing sound of the sugar granules against the sides of the bowl). Add the rice and stir all of the ingredients together until each rice grain has been separately coated with the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, cover, place in oven and cook for 50 minutes (for one cup of rice) to an hour and 15 minutes (for four cups of rice). If you prefer a slight crust on your pudding, remove the lid toward the end of the cooking time, but be aware that overall cooking time will be decreased. Serve immediately, plain or with milk, half & half or cream.

Variations:

For whole milk, substitute: skim milk, reduced fat milk, half & half, cream, coconut milk, soy milk.

For granulated white sugar, substitute: brown sugar.

For long grain white rice, substitute: basmati rice, Thai purple rice, wild rice

For butter, substitute: olive oil, or other oil

Additions (per 1 cup of rice):

Don't be afraid to experiment; you'll find some combinations work better than others (two of my favorites are to combine cardamom with pistachios, or the candied ginger and coconut milk with Thai purple rice). The recipe is very forgiving, and lasts refrigerated up to a week. I especially enjoy putting some in a bowl, adding additional milk, and microwaving it for about 2 minutes (or, you can put some into a pan, add the milk, and heat it that way). It is delicious for dessert or breakfast.

When, in the space of a single monthly column I have presented the equivalent of several thousand variations to tantalize your taste buds, I can sign off feeling I've done my job. If you want recipes and cooking tips tailored just for you, then contact me at 773.508.9208 or email me so that I can do my job for you!

 

BACK TO COOKING, FOOD & ENTERTAINING