Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wondrous Wild Rice (Manoomin)


This is the story about how we (me and my husband) became addicted to wild rice: last winter, a friend gave me a pound of wild rice that she brought back from a trip to northern Minnesota. The rice came in a see through bag a small golden seal that read Spirit Lake Native Products in the bottom right hand corner. The bag of rice sat in my cabinet for a long while because frankly, as someone who comes from a culture where white rice is king, this wild and nutty looking distant cousin intimidated me. Every so often I would pick it up, look at it, ponder about it but I would quickly put it back beside the other rice varieties in my cabinet. I long ago stopped eating the short-grain white rice customary in Puerto Rican cuisine and began making all my rice dishes (i.e. arroz junto) using the fuller bodied Basmati or Jasmine rice. Sometimes I make rice and chickpeas [arroz con garbanzos] using brown Basmati and other times I make white Jasmine with pigeon peas [arroz con gandules]. I find both Basmati and Jasmine rice are tastier than short grain rice and they are much healthier as well. 
   
But back to wild rice: early this fall, I finally decided it was time to taste Spirit Lake’s wild rice. Sure, I had eaten wild rice many times before but I had never made it myself. I proceeded the way I usually make rice: my experience cooking whole brown rice has taught me that unprocessed varieties need more water and more time to cook. I set my rice pot on the stove and added 4 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of sea salt covered the pot and let the water boil vigorously. I then added 2 cups of wild rice setting the heat to 4 (low-medium) covering the pot and setting the timer to 45 minutes. Immediately upon adding the rice to the boiling water a fragrant, meaty aroma began to infuse the air. I wondered why it smelled more like mushrooms than rice, and found that this bold aroma might be due to its high protein content which is part of its high nutritional value. Whatever the reason, I now could not wait to taste it!


I chopped calabaza squash, ñame, carrots, green peppers, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro. I added 6 cups of water to my soup pan and threw in 3 veggie bullion cubes, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Once the broth began to boil I added all the other ingredients allowing them to cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. I turned off the stove but left the soup pan covered until the rice was ready. When the rice was fluffy and each grain had “popped,” I measured 1 cup and added it to the soup. I turned the soup to low for 5 minutes to allow all the ingredients to come together. This wild rice soup was truly therapeutic and restorative. And it tasted so good that we ate it all the same night! 
 
I still had another cup of rice left and also had fresh corncobs in the fridge. So the next day, we grilled corn in our coal-fired BBQ and I shaved the kernels (using a knife) off the cobs onto a bowl to which I added 1 teaspoon of butter and a pinch of salt. I re-heated the rice and added the corn to it to make wild rice with fresh corn. This was a simple meal, but it scored very high in flavor, freshness and nutrition. Luckily, my friend recently hooked us up with more Spirit Lake rice and I was able to buy a couple of pounds to satisfy our newly acquired wild rice obsession!

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