Wild rice is known as the “caviar of grains,” but you don’t need a caviar budget to enjoy it. Once a staple in the diet of the Ojibwa and considered sacred by other Native American cultures, wild rice is widely available and can be enjoyed at any meal.
Wild rice isn’t actually rice at all. It’s a nutty, chewy long-grain marsh grass that can vary in color from light green to dark brown. Most commercially grown wild rice is cultivated in artificially flooded paddies in California, Minnesota and Idaho, and is often collected by airboat. It is generally darker in color than handpicked varieties, and most of it has been scarified, meaning it absorbs water and cooks quickly because the surface of the bran layer has been scratched (scarification does not affect the nutritional profile). About 20 percent of the wild rice on the market is still harvested by hand — bending the ripe seed heads and gently threshing them into canoes — in the Great Lakes region of North America, primarily Minnesota. To best savor the subtle flavor and aroma of hand-harvested wild rice, look for the label “Hand harvested, organic, and from the Great Lakes region.”
Naturally gluten-free, wild rice provides twice the amount of protein as brown rice and higher levels of B vitamins and potassium. It is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin E, phosphorus and the essential amino acid lysine, which plays an important role in calcium absorption, muscle building and in helping the body recover from injuries. Lysine also produces hormones, enzymes and antibodies. This carbohydrate is low-cal: One cup of cooked wild rice contains only about 130 calories.
To cook wild rice, use a ratio of one part rice to three parts liquid, like hot chicken stock, vegetable stock or water. To add flavor, soften 2 tablespoons of minced shallots in olive oil over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of wild rice, 3 cups of hot liquid and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and steam for 45 minutes to one hour or until puffed and most of the liquid is absorbed. Fluff rice with a fork and continue to cook uncovered to evaporate any excess liquid.
- The soft, chewy texture and nutty flavor of wild rice is an ideal base for countless salads. Its flavors partner well with celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, scallions, nuts, dried fruits, tomatoes (fresh, dried or roasted), infused vinegars, sour cream and yogurt.
- Substitute wild rice for white rice in favorite soup recipes to add a hearty flavor.
- Wild rice can be safely stored in the pantry, but because of its high moisture content, it can be stored in the fridge indefinitely.
- Wild rice should be rinsed before cooking to remove any unwanted hulls.
- Because of the relatively long preparation time for wild rice, make a large batch — enough for future uses — at one time. To store the extra cooked rice, cool it quickly by spreading on a baking sheet before refrigerating. Next, place the cooled rice in a freezer bag, remove excess air, wrap tightly and freeze for up to two weeks.
For details on how to prepare Wild Rice Sesame Orange Salad; Wild Rice, Grapes and Feta Salad; Wild Rice and Pearl Barley Stuffing; and Wild Rice and Potato Griddle Cakes, see the Web Extras!
Chef Cary Neff is the president of the consulting firm Culinary Innovations and the author of the New York Times bestseller Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).