June 27, 2012

Wild Rice and Cherry Salad


I have always has a strong association with wild rice being a autumnal food. It has a earthy character and nutty flavor that holds up well with the hearty dishes we enjoy during that time of year. Yet it has a firm texture that lends itself so well to using in salads. Such salads certainly should not be limited to those that can be enjoyed in stuffing or served with game or fowl during the colder months of the year as wild rice can be a great choice to use for lighter meals.

I was having friends come for dinner last weekend and was aiming to prepare a simple no fuss feast. With the intention of keeping preparation, cooking, and clean up to a minimum my plan was to take care of the marinades and vegetables and have my husband man the grill. A couple of hours before my guests arrived with everything ready to be cooked, I got an itch to make an additional dish. I wanted something to round out the meal nicely and decided on using wild rice to make a fresh salad to go with dinner. I tried to make do with what I had in the house and came up with a fresh summery selection of goodies to mix in with the rice. It turned out better than I had hoped and is definitely worth trying before cherries go out of season.

An aquatic grass that was considered to be a sacred component of the Native American culture, economy, and diet, wild rice is not actually a rice. The Native Americans harvested it by canoe knocking the plant stems to release the seeds ("rice grains") into the canoe. They called this rice "good berry" and many places including Illinois, Indiana, Manitoba, Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Wisconsin were named after this plant as well as many lakes and streams that bear the name "rice" or "wild rice".

Wild rice is considered to be a grain and like rice it is gluten free. It is high in protein, the amino acid Lysine, and dietary fiber. It is also considered to be a good source of B vitamins and minerals.

Cherries also deserve a nod for nutrition as they are an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as being a potent antioxidant and anti inflammatory. They also have shown potential as a cancer fighting food as they contain a phytonutrient called perillyl alcohol (also in fresh mint) which has has been shown to stall the growth of pancreatic, liver, colon, and mammary tumors in labs.

Wild Rice and Cherry Salad
Serves 6-10 as a side dish.
For all of the ingredients, please use only those that are organic or pesticide free.
2 cups wild rice
8 cups purified water
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 cups fresh cherries
  (Dried tart cherries can be substituted for fresh which makes this dish something that can be made year round. Use 1 1/4 cup of dried unsweetened cherries plumped in 1 cup of purified water for about an hour. Leave them whole. Reserve the soaking liquid to use with the dressing if needed. See photo below)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped (more if desired)
4 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2/3 cup unsalted pistachios, lightly roasted
1/3 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the wild rice, water, garlic, and bay leaf in a large sauce pan and set over medium high heat. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover with a lid and set a timer for 45 minutes.
When the rice is ready, the grains will have begun to open up. There may stil be quite a bit of water left in the pan. In my experience, that seems to depend on the variety of wild rice you are using. Some of them absorb more water than others, but most seem to take approximately 40-55 minutes to be ready.
Drain the rice of any remaining liquid in a colander and allow to cool to room temperature.
Use a cherry pitter to remove the pits from the cherries. If you do not own a pitter, this can be done by cutting the cherries in halves and removing the pits with a paring knife or your fingers. Slice them into quarters or coarsely chop. Put the cherries and their juices into a large mixing bowl.
Add the onion, celery, pistachios, basil, olive oil, vinegars, salt, and pepper to the cherries. Stir with a serving spoon to combine the flavors.
When the rice has cooled completely, add it to the cherry mixture. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Take a bite and add oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and perhaps more onion to your desired taste.
Serve at room temperature or cold.


IMG_7859 IMG_7867

IMG_7863Dried cherries plumping in water.

Categories: Gluten Free, Grains, Salads

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