Why It Works
- Cooking rice in stock imbues it with deeper flavor.
- Celery root adds additional earthiness to an already earthy cast of mushrooms and pine nuts.
I'm always a little bit perplexed when people write about wild rice. Most articles make a point of stressing that wild rice is not a rice at all, but instead the grain of an aquatic grass. They're right that wild rice isn't the same thing as the Asian cereal we call rice, but the fact that wild rice is the grain of an aquatic grass is hardly the differentiating factor—both types of rice are the grains of aquatic grasses!
It'd sort of be the equivalent of telling someone that a dog isn't the same thing as a horse because a dog walks on four legs and has fur.
What really makes wild rice different? The shortest answer is that wild rice is a cereal native to the Americas, and belongs to the genus Zizania in the family of grasses named Poaceae. Asian rice, on the other hand, is native to Asia (or, at least, it was domesticated in Asia), and belongs to the genus Oryza, which is also in the family Poaceae. Not only do they belong to the same biological family, but they also share membership in the tribe Oryzeae, making them relatively close cousins. (More distant cousins include corn, wheat, oats, millet, and barley—all grassy members of Poaceae.)
I don't really have any point here beyond that I'm tired of reading lazy writing that pretends at expertise while betraying the opposite, and I have little interest in making the same mistake. Let's just say they're both grains from different plants that belong to the same family of grasses and leave it at that. There's more interesting stuff to say about wild rice, anyway.
In particular, that it was, and is, a critically important grain for many Native American tribes, particularly ones centered around the Midwestern United States and farther north into Canada. Reading up on its history, I was struck by the sustainable harvesting method those tribes use: They guide canoes and other small boats onto the waters where the rice grasses grow, then gently thresh the grains from the grass with sticks.
Most of the rice falls into the boat, but some tumbles down into the water, ensuring future generations of the grass will seed and grow. The technique is also delicate enough to avoid any major damage to the existing plant, allowing for subsequent harvests.
I've whipped up a couple fairly classic recipes starring this nutty, earthy grain. I'm not exactly sure how to classify them. They could easily be called "warm wild rice salads," though "wild rice dressing" would work, too. This salad plays up those earthy flavors with sautéed mushrooms, celery root, and toasted pine nuts. I also developed a brighter, fruitier dish that pairs wild rice with dried cranberries, quick-pickled apples, and pecans.
In supermarkets, much of what’s sold as “wild rice” is a blend of brown rice varietals with a handful of wild rice thrown in like confetti. For these recipes, you’ll want the genuine article, so check the ingredients list to be sure it includes nothing but wild rice. In some parts of the country, the easiest option may be to shop online and buy wild rice from the tribes who grow it, such as Red Lake Nation.
I start by boiling the wild rice until tender. This can take a while, somewhere around 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes more. I like wild rice most once the grains have swelled and cracked; this is when they have what I find to be the most pleasant chew.
You can cook the rice in water, or you can use chicken or vegetable stock (or some combination of stock and water) if you want to infuse a deeper savory flavor into the grains.
While the rice is cooking, I prepare the other components of the salad, toasting the pine nuts, and sautéing the mushrooms and vegetables (diced celery root, onion, and celery) in oil until the mushrooms are browned and the vegetables are tender. If you want, you can also add some rehydrated dried mushrooms, such as porcini, to the mix, just to deepen the flavor even more.
To finish it, I toss the rice with the mushrooms, vegetables, and nuts, then mix in some minced fresh parsley and chives, and season to taste with a little cider vinegar—not so much that it makes the rice tart, but just enough to balance out all the earthy, savory flavors.
14 ounces wild rice (about 2 1/3 cups; 396g)
Chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water, for cooking the rice (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
10 ounces (280g) cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 ounce (30g) dried mushrooms, such as porcini, soaked in boiling water, then drained, squeezed, and chopped (optional)
4 sprigs thyme
One 12-ounce (340g) medium celery root, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 1/3 cups diced)
One 8-ounce (225g) yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Two 2-ounce (55g) ribs celery, diced
3 ounces (85g) pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems
2 tablespoons minced chives
1/4 cup (60ml) apple cider vinegar, or to taste
In a large pot, combine wild rice with enough stock and/or water to cover by at least 2 inches. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a simmer, then continue to cook at a simmer until rice grows tender and many of the grains have ruptured, about 50 minutes; add more water at any point as needed to keep the rice covered.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Add fresh and soaked dried mushrooms (if using) and thyme sprigs and cook, stirring, until mushrooms are golden, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Lower heat to medium and add celery root, onion, and celery, and continue cooking, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the skillet, until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard thyme sprigs.
Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain wild rice well. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the mushrooms and vegetables. Stir in pine nuts, parsley, and chives. Add the vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time until the salad has a subtle brightness, but not an obvious tang. Season once more with salt and pepper, if needed, then serve warm or at room temperature.
You need enough liquid to cover the rice sufficiently, the exact amount of which will depend on the dimensions of your pot; if using stock, 1 or 2 quarts (1 or 2 liters) will be sufficient, as you can always top it up with additional water as needed.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The wild rice salad can be refrigerated for up to 2 days and reheated, covered, in a moderate oven.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 12g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 39g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||15%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||25%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|