In the recent past, “wild rice” has been cropping up on the menus of smart restaurants. At first, I was confused as to whether it was something you ate or something you sat on or ate off. It is actually a very long, black grain of rice which, because it is whole and unpolished, is both healthy, tasty and takes ages to cook. In India, it is available in the Tilda rice range in neat boxes — cleaned and ready to cook. Some wild rice is more black, others dark brown.
Healthy bites: The smoky flavour of wild rice adds to the fruit salad.
Wild rice is an excellent upmarket food option for vegetarians seeking something gourmet and different. Three of the four species of wild rice in existence are native to North America and Canada, and one is native to China. It grows in fresh water and in brackish swamps in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba and in the central and southern states of the US.
In the US, it has around 60 local names, many of them associated with native Indian names of the area in which it grows. In northern Minnesota, it is still gathered by Indians in canoes paddled through rice beds, the seeds being shaken into the canoes from the grass heads. The seed coat of wild rice remains on, so it is always brown or black.
Although wild rice is one of America’s native foods (along with cranberries, pumpkins, etc.), because of its health properties (it is very low in calories) and high price, it is now grown worldwide, in parts of Africa, South-East Asia and South China, particularly in Manchuria. Interestingly enough, in China, the plants are not exploited for the grains but for the swollen young shoots, which are cooked and eaten like asparagus. They also use the broader leaves of wild rice or grass for wrapping dumplings.
As an ingredient, wild grass is heavy, so you can’t eat too much. It is also excellent combined with other types of rice (but has to be cooked separately) and has a chewy, grainy texture and nutty, almost smoky flavour. I have eaten it in salads where it adds some texture and dimension to fruit and vegetables. I have even eaten it blended with Arborio rice in a risotto. The Americans add it to the stuffing of their Thanksgiving turkey. It is also served as an accompaniment to game.
This is one of my favourite summer recipes, combining wild rice and fruit with a curry dressing.
Caribbean Rice Salad
4 cups boiled rice (mix of wild, brown and basmati)
½ cup fresh pineapple pieces (diced into 1” pieces)
1 cup Californian pitted prunes, roughly chopped
½ cup cashew nuts
½ cup spring onions with greens, finely chopped
1 cup red bell peppers, diced
1½ tsp curry powder
½ cup green olives, sliced
200 ml French dressing
Put all the salad ingredients in a bowl. You can use a mix of different kinds of rice as long as each one is cooked separately. Whisk the French dressing with the curry powder. Pour over the salad ingredients. Toss and serve in a pineapple shell or on a bed of lettuce.
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