- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Traditionally served for Thanksgiving and other fall and winter holidays, wild rice is a delicious and nutty-tasting grain with a rich American history.

Botanically, wild rice (Zizania aquatica) is not rice (Oryza sativa), although both are aquatic grasses. Wild rice still grows along shallow lakes and rivers, mostly in the northern Great Lakes region, from Minnesota to Canada, much as it did when French explorers and trappers first noticed it in the 17th century.

The only grain indigenous to North America, wild rice was a staple for American Indians, who called it “manomin,” or wild berry. High in protein and a good source of B vitamins, potassium, iron and fiber, wild rice nourished the Indians through the long, harsh Northern Plains winters.

Although many natural stands of wild rice are still harvested in these regions, not all modern wild rice is truly wild. Once a cultivated wild rice seed was developed, wild rice was planted in man-made paddies throughout the United States and the world, including Australia.

The great taste and exotic nature of wild rice makes up for the fact that it is relatively expensive when compared with other rice. It evokes a celebration, and I think it is more than worth the expense.

One cup of raw rice makes up to 4 cups cooked. To offset its long cooking time (It can take as long as 45 minutes or more.), I often cook it ahead, then either freeze it for use later or refrigerate it and reheat it in a stir-fry or in the oven. This is a real advantage when entertaining during the holidays.

The following wild rice salad, a longtime favorite, is perfect for a holiday buffet table or when served formally (without chicken or turkey added) with roasted duck, baked ham or turkey.

For a simple weeknight dinner, I like to serve it with a salad of mixed greens. It’s a great way to use up leftover turkey. Or omit the meat and serve it as a vegetarian dish. Either way, it will be delicious. For dessert, serve ice cream with maple syrup and warm pecans.

Wild rice salad with chicken or turkey

This salad is also excellent when the leftover chicken or turkey is omitted. The preparation time is 15 minutes, and the cooking time is 45 minutes.

1 cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed in warm water and drained

1½ teaspoons salt, divided

½ cup sliced natural (skins on) almonds

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded roasted skinless chicken, leftover cooked turkey or smoked chicken breast

1½ cups rinsed seedless red grapes (halved, if large)

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

¼ cup raisins or dried currants

2 scallions, trimmed, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)

Combine rice, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil, cover and cook over low heat until rice is tender and water is absorbed, about 45 minutes or more, if necessary. Cool in saucepan.

Sprinkle almonds in a dry skillet and heat over low heat, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. In a large serving bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and a grinding of black pepper. Add cooled rice, chicken or turkey, grapes, parsley, raisins or currants, scallions and half the almonds. Toss to blend. Top with remaining almonds. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Maple syrup and warm pecan sundaes

1 cup broken pecan halves

1 quart vanilla ice cream

1 cup maple syrup, warmed

Spread pecans on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 3 minutes, stirring after each minute. (If preferred, you can heat the pecans in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.) Scoop ice cream into 4 bowls. Drizzle with maple syrup, to taste. Top with the warm pecans, dividing evenly.

Makes 4 servings.

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