Friday, November 18, 2011

Wild Rice

In a Native American magazine I recently came across there was an article about wild rice and its meaning to Native American people. I learned quite a bit. It seems that wild rice is the only grain indigenous to North America. It has twice the protein and fiber of brown rice and like any true rice, is gluten free.  It has a nuttier, crunchier texture than any other rice. Sometimes it’s mixed with brown, white, black and/or red rices for a “wild rice blend” which is really delicious.

Wild rice grows in rivers, creeks and shallow lakes and was harvested by canoe, mainly by the Chippewa/Ojibwa Indians of the Great Lakes Region (northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and west-central Ontario (Canada). 

It's considered a sacred plant by the Native Americans and is hearty. But the plant requires a real winter for the seed to break dormancy, so climate change could have a negative impact on this food source as temperatures increase. Conservation programs are underway to reinvigorate wild rice growing regions to benefit not only humans, but wildlife, too. Where rice is abundant it drives biodiversity in those areas. Wild rice feeds waterfowl (mallards, ducks, etc.) and the beds create habitat for breeding and nesting. Moose, muskrats and minute invertebrates all feed on or use wild rice as well. 

Many Native American people today rely on this rice for income. Wild rice is harvested by hand, so it is not inexpensive. This is another reason why it’s sometimes mixed with other rices in rice blends in order to cut the cost. I find this to be a great idea for not only cost reasons, but also because an all-wild-rice dish can be a bit overwhelming.

So how did the Native American people typically prepare wild rice? I read that it was often served with berries (such as blueberries, blackberries or cranberries) and meat. Though I haven’t tried that, a couple of ways I like to make it is either warm, mixed with other rices as a side dish to chicken or whatever, or in a salad. At this time of year you’ll find stuffing recipes using wild rice instead of bread for a gluten-free version. Some of them look quite good. This recipe was recommended to me several years ago by my sister-in-law. I modified it slightly by mixing the 2 rices together. The original called for all wild rice.

Wild Rice Salad

2 cups water, divided
½ tsp salt, divided
½  cup wild rice
½ cup brown rice
1 6-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved, reserve marinade
1 6-oz. can green peas (or use frozen and cook them)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped green or red bell pepper
3 green onions, chopped with both white and green parts
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

1 1/3 cups light flavored oil such as canola or grapeseed
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. ground white pepper
½ tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. paprika
1 clove garlic, minced

First, we’re going to cook each of the rices separately, and later combine them. In 2 pots with lids, bring water and salt to a boil. Add the wild rice to one pot and the brown rice in another one, and stir each well. 
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer the wild rice for 45 minutes to 1 hour, the brown rice for about 45 minutes (or follow the directions on the bag). Drain excess liquid from both and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Chop all the veggies.
When the rices are done cooking, in a large bowl, combine them with the vegetables, reserved artichoke marinade and half of the dressing. Toss well.  

Just before serving, toss again and taste. Add more of the dressing if needed. Taste for salt and sprinkle with the almonds and serve. This is best eaten at room temperature.

For Native American recipes featuring wild rice, consider visiting

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