Eating wild rice always feels so celebratory, it’s a shame most of us don’t do it more often.
Some folks avoid wild rice because it takes a long time to cook—often close an hour. Others find it perplexing that the cooking time is so unpredictable, varying from 40 to 70 minutes.
For me, the big drawback was that I found the flavor and texture of wild rice too intense on its own. Once I got the idea of serving it in a medley, tossed either with other grains or with vegetables, I started including wild rice in my menus more often. Favorite pairings include wild rice with winter squash (see recipe below), short-grain brown rice, sliced mushrooms, roasted chestnuts, or dried cranberries.
Since cooking time is wildly (pun intended) unpredictable, prepare the rice separately, then combine it with the other ingredients shortly before serving. The recipe below is an example of this successful approach. It’s adopted from my most recent cookbook, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way.
Kabocha, with its rich texture and intense taste, is my favorite winter squash. The challenge of cutting up kabocha and other hard-shelled winter squash is considerably reduced by giving it a quick turn in the microwave. This starts the cooking process and softens the skin. However, if you don't own a microwave, you can make this recipe with an easy-to-chop winter squash such as butternut.
In this recipe, some of the squash melts down and creates its own sauce as it steams in ginger-flecked water. Use the smaller amount of ginger if you prefer a more subtle presence of its singular flavor. Cooked wild rice, added at the last minute and perfumed with honey and orange zest, creates a memorable topping for the squash.
Serves 6 as a side dish
If using kabocha squash, there is no need to peel it. Pierce the squash in 5 or 6 places with a fork. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Let the squash sit undisturbed in the microwave for 5 minutes. Slice the squash in half through the stem end and remove the seeds. Chop the squash into 2-inch chunks. If using a butternut squash, omit the microwave step. Just peel, seed, and cut it into chunks.
Bring 1 cup of salted water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Stir in half of the ginger. Add the squash and distribute the remaining ginger on top. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the squash is tender, 5 to 8 minutes (or about 12 minutes if you haven't microwaved it first). Check every few minutes and add boiling water, if needed, to maintain the water level.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the squash to a serving platter and tent with foil. Stir 2 teaspoons of the honey into the cooking liquid, and boil over high heat until reduced and slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wild rice and butter, plus more honey, if desired. Lower the heat and simmer for another minute. Stir in the orange zest. Pour the mixture over the squash and serve immediately.
Recipe copyright, Lorna Sass, 2008