Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wilder Wild Rice!

Because these are the very real things my sister and I discuss when I'm recipe testing, we ultimately agreed (7 minutes in) and circled back around to (17 minutes in) that little compares to a plate of white rice blanketed in stewed brown gravy, served next to just about anything.  In experimenting with new and healthy grains as side dishes or one dish meals, recent reminiscence of Wild Rice peeked my interest to taste again .

Wild Rice is actually an annual aquatic grass (Who knew?!?!). What that means is that seeds that die fall in the Autum, then take root in Spring under shallow waters. Wild Rice has a rich toothsome texture that is high in protein and dietary fiber. It's also low in fat, and gluten free.

The ubiquitous influence of white rice on southern diets is one that left wild rice reserved only for “fancified” stuffings at wedding receptions.  When Wild Rice did appear, I always immediately wondered, where’s the gravy?  This grain barely, if ever, crossed my path “at home” before 1999.

1999! The last time I recall making wild rice with dinner.  I had to think about it. Wow, right?!?!  I was getting my post graduate degree in Michigan at the time.  Biggest damned snowflakes I’d ever seen in my entire Life, and the people … well, they definitely weren’t Southern!  Casual Midwestern eating was starting to influence my experiments in the kitchen.  Always one to embrace the culinary culture of my immediate surroundings, I’d fallen in love with Wednesday Beer Cheese Soup, Thursday Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples, and Walnuts, now, I was off to try Weekend Wild Rice!  

Whenever we needed a middle of night study break, a girlfriend of mine and I would take off to the grocery store.  We’d roam the aisles as if they were clothing stores at the mall.  We’d park our baskets, and grab a cup of coffee.  Stroll as if sitting on a park bench watching a pick-up game of soccer with an apple that had fallen from its stand in produce, making its way across the store.  It was always 2:00 a.m., and we were just excited to be at Meijer’s and out of the library. 

One night, I remember roaming Meijer’s with a purpose, I was caught up enough (enough was never really enough) on studying to and going to cook myself a great meal.  Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure how to buy wild rice.  Does it come in a bag like Mahatma or Carolina Gold, or just in a box, like Rice-a-Roni?  Undeterred, I was adamant and curious.  There were Cornish hens in my basket that were sincerely going to be stuffed with this wild rice everyone’s talking about.  I spotted a familiar face on a box of labeled “wild rice”.  He represented more of a scattered mixed pilaf, than the resealable bags of pure aquatic grain easily culled from rice and specialty grain shelves today.  I Shrugged, bought it, and cooked its contents by adapting a stuffing recipe found on the box.  I stuffed the Cornish hens with the wild rice I “doctored” by substituting chicken broth for water, and adding sautéed onions, green peppers, and celery. 

Keeping It real Disclosure:  Following recipes verbatim has always been a problem of mine.  I never miss the opportunity to add my flavor, even to boxed rice! Never be afraid to experiment in your kitchen. If you think you something will taste good. Try it. You’ll find out soon enough if it doesn’t (wink)!

Even single, I always cooked great “course meals” for myself.  Three courses and GP-a-thon of A perfect Murder, Great Expectations, and Sliding Doors (in that order!) on VHS always made the perfect weekend reprieve from Securities and Tax case briefs!

Over a decade later, wild rice has found its way back in to my heart.  Combined with caramelized herb roasted vegetables it can be eaten hot or room temperature.  This side or main dish rice, salad, call it your heart’s desire, Wild Rice is beautiful, healthy, and DELICIOUS.

The Ingredients

1 ½ cups of Wild Rice, ours is Minnesota Grown and Cultivated
4 ½ Cups of Homemade Vegetable Stock
1 lb. small-medium sized loose Brussel Sprouts
2 medium sized Sweet Potatoes
2 Leeks, trimmed, washed and split into vertical halves
½ Orange Peppers, diced
½ Poblano Pepper, diced
4-5 Thyme Sprig Bundles
6 cloves of Garlic, divided, 3 cloves each roasted and minced
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
Olive Oil
Golden Raisin [Optional]
Toasted Pecans [Optional]
Goat cheese [Optional]
Preheat oven 425 degrees 

The Method

I.     The Wash

Start with washing vegetables in cold water. This will help keep them crisp while sitting to be cooked. Leeks and Brussel Sprouts have a bit more of a particular cleaning method than sweet potatoes.


Brussel Sprouts

These wee cabbages have stem bases where they were once attached to branches. Trim back these woodsy ends still keeping the base of the sprout intact. Remove discolored outer layer of leaves if necessary.  Set aside.


Sweet Potatoes

We’re peeling these potatoes.  Cold thorough rinse and scrub is great. Set aside.




Of the most particular vegetables EVER when cleaned, it’s important to know that leeks grow upward from the ground. The tight scallion/onion type layers of leeks can be and often are embedded with dirt. Wash carefully, and well. Trim the root and a few inches the woody dark green ends (wash and reserve separately to use to make vegetable stock).  Slice vertically; leaving four (4) manicured pieces of leek stalk. Hold and rinse the leeks stalks layer by layer under cold running water.  The goal is to simultaneously hold the leek intact while efficiently flipping through to clean its stalk. This method you’ll see makes for easier leek slicing. No one wants to slice a leek layer by layer. Set assembled stalks aside.



 II.     The Prep
I find that my mise en place is my best friend in the kitchen. Pre-prepping all ingredients helps to organize and even out cooking times. Everything’s already set; prepping allows you to simply relax through cooking without wondering if you forgot something.  Don’t forget to turn on the music.

Brussel Sprouts

Already washed, slice each spout in half set them aside with cut sprigs of thyme.

Sweet Potatoes

Peel. Slice the potatoes long ways (vertically) in half. Slice those halves into halves (horizontally). Take each quarter potato, and slice along the potato into ½” sticks. Align and turn those sticks, slicing against to make ½”sweet potato cubes. Set aside with a few sprigs of thyme.




Leeks, Orange Peppers, and Poblano

Already washed, take each quarter of leek and slice cross ways into thin ⅛” half-moons. Set aside. Dice Orange Pepper and Poblano, combine with sliced Leeks.


Garlic Head

Six (6) cloves of garlic divided.  Take three (3) cloves, peel and leave whole and reserve to be roasted with the thyme roasted sweet potato and brussel sprouts. Mince the remaining three (3) cloves with a pinch of salt


 III.     Roasting

Combine prepped brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, thyme, and reserved whole garlic cloves. Toss with a generous quick turn of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (maybe 2-3 Tablespoons), and sprinkle with a heaping few finger pinch of kosher salt. Arrange into one layer with as much of the vegetable surface area not touching another piece as possible. I was able to place both the potatoes and brussel sprouts on one 10”x17” baking sheet.  Slide baking sheet into the preheated 450 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  Depending on your oven’s fancy, check vegetables at 15 minutes, then every 10 minutes thereafter for tender doneness. Don’t forget the whole cloves of Garlic. They’re in there too! Remove from the oven and set aside.

Caramelized Roasted vegetables have a beautiful sweetness that’s often a surprised result of the natural sugars within coming into contact with high heat. You will love the crispy bits. I promise.


because of which,  there's ....



don't forget to remove the thyme stems.



IV.     Wild Rice

Once your vegetables are in for roasting, it’s onward to cooking the wild rice. Pour into a 3 quart medium stock pot, combine premeasured wild rice and vegetable stock. Bring vegetable stock up and wild rice to a solid boil, reduce to a low simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drain. The wild rice is done cooking when you start to see the grains puff open. For a slightly more al dente, toothsome grain, limit your cooking time by 5-7 minutes.





 V.     Sauté Leeks

As the wild rice simmers, It’s time to sauté the combined sliced leeks, minced orange pepper, poblano, and garlic cloves. In a heavy bottom cast iron, or nonstick sauté pan over medium heat melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter.  Add combined vegetable mixture to the pan. Sauté the leek vegetable mixture until the white parts of the leek begin to appear translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add minced Garlic. Sauté while occasionally stirring a few additional minutes to fully incorporate and cook the garlic. Smell that?!?!

VI.      Wilder Assembly

You’ve done it. All vegetables and grains are lined up waiting for your next move!!! Grab a large bowl, Add roasted Brussel Sprouts, Sweet Potatoes, Sautéed leek, peppers, and minced garlic mixture. T-o-s-s to Taste, then Serve.  Add additional salt and pepper at this time if you prefer.  Additionally, if you find that you enjoy a sweeter garlic flavor, mince the reserved roasted garlic, and toss them on in! All that Garlic, don't worry about it, it's … Good for your Circulation!!

On a whim, and because we’re lucky enough to have a pantry and vegetable crisper without borders, for the leftovers, I added golden raisins, toasted pecans, and bits of goat cheese for more of a “salad” lunch. 

Imagine My Joy!





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