Here’s a quick guide to wild rice — what it is, how to buy and cook it, a listing of simple ways to use it, and links to recipes.
What is wild rice? Wild rice is the seed of a tall aquatic grass that’s not a variety of rice, nor botanically even a grain. It’s often marketed as a form of rice, since it’s cooked and used in similar ways.
Native to parts of North America, most of our domestic crop is harvested by Native Americans in and around Minnesota and other Great Lakes states, where it thrives in freshwater lakes or rivers.
The fact that wild rice is a hand-harvested wild grass has made attempts at large-scale commercial cultivation difficult. Its relative scarcity is what makes it more expensive than actual rice varieties.
Wild rice is often used in fall and winter, not so much because it’s a seasonal ingredient, but because its nutty flavor and hearty texture lend themselves to cool-weather dishes like grain pilafs and stews. It’s a nice addition to grain salads and stuffings, and seem to especially complement dishes that incorporate winter squashes. More on these kinds of uses ahead.
How to buy and store wild rice
The most economical way to buy wild rice is in bulk, though it’s not commonly sold that way, even in natural foods stores. Chances are you’ll need to buy wild rice packaged. Well-stocked supermarkets often carry it, where it’s shelved near rice varieties. Explore online sources to compare prices. BulkFoods and Vitacost are good places to start.
Or buy directly from Native American sources such as Red Lake Nation Foods.
In the supermarket: you’ll see wild rice blends usually packaged with white rice. In these cases, the wild rice would have been partially cooked, as otherwise, there’s no way it would cook up at the same time as white rice. These mixes are good, so if you enjoy them, by all means; however, the wild rice is used more as an accent, so if you want a dish to highlight it, buy it to use on its own or to make a 50-50 blend with brown rice.
Wild rice has very low fat content so it’s not prone to rancidity, but still, if you don’t plan to use it within a month or two, depending on the season and how warm you keep your kitchen, move it to the refrigerator. If purchased in a package, transfer to a tightly lidded jar to keep it fresher longer.
Since wild rice is never polished or refined, it’s rich in nutrients. At 14 percent protein, it’s higher in protein than many grains. 1/2 cup of cooked wild rice contains more than 3 grams of protein and 80 calories. The protein is high quality, with good percentages of lysine and methionine, amino acids usually deficient in grains.
Wild rice is rich in the minerals iron and phosphorus and also provides magnesium, calcium, and zinc. It has higher concentrations of the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin than most common grains and is high in fiber while very low in fat. Here’s more nutrition information for wild rice.
How to cook wild rice
Basic cooked wild rice: Use 3 parts water to 1 part grain. Bring to a boil, stir in the grain, return to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes, until the water is absorbed. If it isn’t done to your liking, add 1/2 cup more water and cook until absorbed. Repeat as needed.
Should wild rice be pre-soaked? It’s not necessary, but it could save time. Combine the wild rice with the appropriate amount of water, bring to a boil, then cover and let stand off the heat for several hours.
Conveniently enough, the cooking times of brown and wild rice are similar, so they can be cooked together. The same goes for barley — another grain with a similar cooking time, and which makes for a pleasantly offbeat combination with wild rice. A half-and-half mixture of wild and brown rice (or barley) is a good balance, but you can combine them in whatever proportion you like.
Wild rice freezes well, raw or cooked.
How to use wild rice
If you enjoy the bold flavor and are feeling extravagant, there’s no reason that wild rice can’t be used on its own, say, in pilafs and salads. But since it’s more intense on its own wild rice often cooked and used in tandem with another grain, usually long-grain brown rice.
Wild rice pilafs: These are usually made half and half with lend themselves to many types of embellishment. Apples and nuts are common additions, with pecans a favorite. For variety, try using slivered almonds or chopped hazelnuts. Dried fruits (apricots, currants, chopped prunes) or fresh herbs are also nice additions.
Wild rice pilafs incorporating bright-colored steamed vegetables such as broccoli or carrots are tasty and visually appealing. Mushrooms of any kind are a good addition to wild rice pilafs as well. Season with fragrant nut oil or extra-virgin olive oil and chopped fresh herbs.
Combine with quinoa as a simple side: Cooked wild rice combined with more or less equal parts cooked quinoa is so tasty that all you need to add is a little vegan butter, salt and pepper. Quinoa takes half the time to cook, so cook the two separately.
As a soup garnish or accent: Try adding a small amount of cooked wild rice to pureed soups. It’s especially good in pumpkin and butternut squash soups.
As a salad ingredient: On its own or combined with another grain, wild rice makes a vigorous addition to grain salads. The same ingredients make delightful wild rice pilafs — apples, nuts, dried fruits, crisp vegetables — work in cold salads, too.
Casseroles: Swap in a cup or so of cooked wild rice for other grains (especially wild rice or quinoa) for a lovely accent of flavor and texture as well as an appealing visual touch as well.)
Stuffings: Add a cup or two of cooked wild rice to bread stuffings before they go into the oven. See a recipe following.
Recipes using wild rice on this site
Vegan recipes using wild rice
From around the web: