- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Protein- and nutrient-rich wild rice, a native American grain, definitely deserves its healthy reputation, but its image as bland and uninteresting needs a face-lift.

Wild rice benefits from long cooking in plenty of water — impatience is the likely culprit behind some of those crunchy (literally) dishes from college. Long cooking gives the hard outer bran time to soften, eventually causing the grain to curl open and reveal its soft white interior. Wild rice will always stay a little chewy, even when fully cooked.

The cooked rice is nutty and earthy, with hints of a green-tea taste. This gives it a more complex and rich flavor than any of its white or brown rice cousins.

On its own, wild rice can be a little strong, but pair it with other deeply flavored ingredients such as dried fruits or savory mushrooms, and the flavors soften into something extraordinary. Wild rice also holds up well to many different cooking methods and lends an interesting texture to soups, casseroles and even baked goods.

Basic wild rice

Makes about 3 cups.

1 cup wild rice

1 tablespoon salt

Rinse the wild rice thoroughly under cool running water to remove any grit or chaff.

Fill a 4- to 6-quart pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the wild rice and the salt. Let the water come back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Simmer uncovered for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more hot water as needed if the grains become exposed. The rice is done when the grains have popped and are chewy but no longer crunchy.

Drain the rice into a colander.

Rice will keep for one week refrigerated or several months if frozen. This recipe also can be halved or doubled easily.

Note: Pair wild rice with fresh or dried fruits, roasted vegetables or steamed greens for a simple winter salad.

Morning rolls with wild rice, cranberries and walnuts

Makes 12 rolls.

1/2 cup (2 ounces) dried cranberries

1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnut halves or pieces

3/4 cups cooked wild rice

3 cups flour

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon yeast (active-dry or instant)

2 tablespoons molasses

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons melted butter, optional

Place the cranberries in a small bowl and cover with warm water. Set aside to plump at least a half-hour.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Allow the walnuts to cool and then roughly chop.

Drain the cranberries. In a small bowl, combine cranberries, toasted walnuts, wild rice and 1/4 cup of the flour. Toss gently to coat all the pieces with flour.

Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer and let stand until the yeast is completely dissolved. Stir in the molasses. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and stir until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Set aside the last 1/4 cup of flour to add as needed.

Using a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the dough at medium speed (3 on a KitchenAid mixer) for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be very tacky and smooth, but it should clear the sides of the bowl while mixing. If it sticks, add a little bit of the reserved flour at a time. The dough is ready when it springs back quickly when poked.

Sprinkle the countertop with a little of the reserved flour and transfer the dough onto it. Sprinkle a little more flour onto the top of the dough and then pat it into a rough circle.

Pour a third of the wild-rice mixture on top of the dough. Fold over the dough and press it out again. (Don’t worry if some of the wild-rice mix falls out.) Pour another third of the mixture on top and fold.

Repeat until all the wild-rice mixture has been used. Knead the dough against the counter a few times to make sure the wild-rice mix is distributed evenly and to pick up any pieces that have fallen out.

Lightly oil a medium-sized bowl and transfer the dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until roughly doubled in size.

Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Sprinkle the countertop with flour and turn out the risen dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion between your hands to shape a roll and place it in the casserole dish. Cover the dish and allow rolls to rise for a half-hour until they look puffed and pillowy.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

If desired, brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter before baking. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown. Allow to cool. These rolls will keep in a sealed container for several days.

Note: This dough tends to be quite sticky and is easiest to make in a standing mixer with a dough hook. If kneading by hand, try to avoid adding too much flour. It’s better to underknead the dough than add too much flour.

Rolls also can be prepared through the shaping step and then refrigerated overnight. The next morning, allow an hour for them to come to room temperature and rise before baking.

• Emma Christensen is a writer for Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn (thekitchn.com).

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