This is a lovely wild rice salad I first found in Maria Speck’s excellent cookbook Simply Ancient Grains that I have modified by anchoring it in a Northern, cold-climate tradition.
I have a thing about wild rice. Real wild rice. Mahnomen. If you’ve only ever bought wild rice from Uncle Ben’s or somesuch in a regular supermarket, know that you’re buying cultivated “wild” rice likely grown in California. Not that cultivated “wild” rice isn’t fine, but it simply doesn’t compare to the real deal.
Real wild rice is, well, wild. It’s gathered, not grown. The grains of Zizania palustris are longer, more irregular, and lighter in color than the inky black stuff you get in the supermarket. It’s also parched over fire, which lends a subtle smoky flavor to it. Oh, and did I mention that real wild rice cooks in less than half the time as cultivated? Why I have no idea.
How do you get it? That hotlink a couple paragraphs up will take you to my friend Sam Thayer’s website, where you can buy it. Or go to a gas station in the Upper Midwest, where I’ve seen it next to the smoked fish in places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or northern Wisconsin.
And of course you can make this wild rice salad with regular wild rice, too.
Maria is part Greek and part German, and her recipe reflects that bifurcated heritage. My take on it is deeply Northern. She uses olive oil. I use an oil more suited to wild rice: Unrefined canola oil, which is to the refined crap what a troll is to a supermodel. Golden, beautiful, grassy and bold. Wonderful stuff. Any decent nut oil or unrefined sunflower oil would be other good choices. I also use wild mushrooms, because, well, I can.
Finally, I chose to use homemade walnut ketchup in place of Maria’s soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. It works really well. I realize you probably don’t have any walnut ketchup kicking around, but Worcestershire sauce will get you close.
What’s the net effect? Really, really savory. Balanced with the tart walnut ketchup (or balsamic or Worcestershire), meaty from the mushrooms and pleasantly chewy with the wild rice. If you wanted to make things pop even more, add a handful of cranberries, tart wild blueberries or lingonberries right at the end.
This is a worthy vegetarian dinner, but I designed it as a side dish for simply cooked duck breasts or venison backstrap. Either way, it’s just damn good.