Wild rice, our official state grain, is harvested in August and September, so the new crop is coming to market now. In secluded waters in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, slender canoes are gliding among wild rice plants, so that harvesters can knock the wild rice into the vessel. It’s labor-intensive, careful work, and we locals are lucky to be able to get the best wild rice in the world.
When confronted with the choice between hand-harvested wild rice that is truly wild and the much cheaper, cultivated wild rice, many shoppers waver. What’s the difference? Wild rice is an ancient form of aquatic grass that grows only in cool lakes and streams.
In the 1960s, plant breeders started producing hybrids that hold the grains on the plant longer, so they don’t fall into the water before they can be harvested with machines. Cultivated wild rice can be grown in paddies. Unfortunately, like the tomato bred to ship in wintertime, making the plant easier to harvest made the grain so sturdy and hard that it takes an hour to cook.
To celebrate the harvest, make a Red Lentil and Wild Rice Stew, and you can throw in those last garden tomatoes and zucchini, too. This stew is easy and quick to make, because both red lentils and the hand-harvested wild rice cook in about 20 minutes.
I like to add the vegetables after the lentils are tender, so that they keep their shape and don’t dissolve into the soup. If you like your veggies falling-apart tender, go ahead and add them to the lentils with the water and bring to a boil.
For the flavorful garnish, I slivered some fresh sage from the garden and fried it in olive oil. It’s an easy way to gussy up a simple soup, and the oil carries the sage flavor throughout each bite. Drizzling it on just before serving gives each bowl a lovely sage fragrance. It’s a nod to the coming Thanksgiving season, for those of us who forget about sage until it’s time to make stuffing.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.