It was a great year for wild rice, the kind that’s really wild. The even summer temperatures stretched the season long into the fall. The “real” variety grows in our northern shallow lakes, and is hand-harvested in canoes, with long sticks used to tap the kernels into the center of the boat.
Wild rice is not a rice at all, but an aquatic grass the Ojibwe call manoomin, meaning “good berry” or “good seed.” No wonder the early Voyageurs called wild rice “pocket money.”
A handful of raw wild rice swells four times as it cooks and can feed a lot of people. It is a treasure of flavor and fills the house with the aromas of the forest as it simmers on the stove. The hand-harvested rice cooks very quickly, in about half the time as commercial paddy rice, so it’s important to be vigilant once the pot comes to a boil.
Cultivated rice is shiny, hard and black, and grown from a seed that’s been hybridized for consistency and ease of harvest.
The wild version can be speckled black, dark brown or tan, and it often costs three times more per pound than the cultivated variety, a factor that does not deter its fans.
I’ve been stocking up on this year’s harvest of wild rice, available in local natural food co-ops and at many of our winter farmers markets.
It makes a terrific gift, especially for out-of-town family and friends. And, it makes for easy entertaining. Once cooked, the rice will keep nearly a week in the refrigerator, ready to toss into salad, soups and stews. This simple recipe makes a dish that tastes as good warm as it does at room temperature.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.