- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wild rice, once exotic and expensive, was reserved for special dinners such as the Thanksgiving meal.

Fortunately for those of us who appreciate the nutty and herbaceous flavor and chewy texture of this grass, wild rice is more readily available and economical than in the past.

However, wild rice is still pricier than true rice, making it more than an everyday starch.

When you want to transform a simple dish into a special one, switch from long-grain rice to wild rice. The robust flavor is excellent in soups, salads and side dishes. If you have a little leftover cooked wild rice, add it to pancake or muffin batter for a delicious surprise.

The only drawback is that wild rice requires about twice the cooking time of long-grain rice. As a solution, I suggest cooking wild rice in larger batches and storing what you don’t need for immediate use.

In the following rice preparation, I call for enough wild rice to form the base for two different dishes. Refrigerate the leftover rice in a covered container up to four days or freeze it up to six months. Thaw wild rice in a microwave oven or in the refrigerator overnight.

Pair wild rice with asparagus for a refreshing spring entree now or whenever you feel like serving an affordable luxury.

Wild rice

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup wild rice

Bring 3 cups water and salt to a boil in a medium-size pot. Stir in rice. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes or until rice is swelled and tender. Drain well. Makes about 2 to 2½ cups; enough for 2 recipes.

Asparagus and rice soup

1 tablespoon butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1½ cups chicken broth

3/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup cooked wild rice

½ pound asparagus, toughs removed, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces (directions follow)

1/16 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in medium pot. Add shallot and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in flour and cook 30 seconds. Stir in chicken broth gradually. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.

Add half-and-half and reduce heat to low. Add wild rice, asparagus, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes to blend flavors. Makes 2 servings.

Wild rice and chicken salad

1 to 1½ cups cooked wild rice

½ pound asparagus, toughs removed, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces (directions follow)

6-ounce package cooked chicken breast strips or 1½ cups cooked, diced chicken breast meat

1 celery rib, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped scallion

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

2½ tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine cooked rice, asparagus, chicken, celery, scallion and Italian parsley in a salad bowl. Mix gently but well. Stir together oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over salad. Set aside for 10 minutes for flavors to blend.

Makes 2 servings.

COOKING ASPARAGUS:

½ teaspoon salt

½ pound thick asparagus spears

Fill a large skillet with 1 inch water. Add salt. Add asparagus and bring water to a boil. Cook at medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until asparagus spears are tender. Drain well.

When cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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