The Star Tribune published its first wild rice soup recipe on Dec. 17, 1975.
In the intervening years, more than 60 iterations have followed, which probably makes wild rice soup, in all its variations, the most-published recipe in the history of the Taste section.
Taste debuted in the Minneapolis Star on Oct. 1, 1969 — it was one of the country’s first newspaper food sections — and to mark this 50th anniversary year, we will occasionally dig into its 2,500-plus past issues.
Let’s start with wild rice, which makes sense because it’s the state’s official grain — a designation that dates to 1977. Wild rice soup has surely earned its place as Minnesota’s unofficial-but-should-be-official dish. Especially since it’s basically a wild rice hot dish, and nothing is more quintessentially Minnesotan than that.
Many of those 60-plus wild rice soup recipes appeared in the section’s former Restaurant Requests column, a decadeslong feature where readers asked Taste staffers to diligently track down recipes of dishes encountered at favorite restaurants. (The column disappeared when chefs’ recipes grew too complicated and/or elaborate to replicate for home cooks.)
Over the years, the Rosewood Room, Nigel’s, King’s Inn, the Decathlon Club, the Sky Room and other long-gone restaurants all shared their wild rice soup secrets.
Byerly’s may have done more than any other enterprise to cement the soup’s popularity. Not only was the supermarket’s recipe published in Taste on a half-dozen occasions — the first being in 1980, shortly after the store started selling a heat-and-serve version — but a 1985 story noted that the company was producing 40,000 gallons of wild rice soup each year for its restaurants, deli counters and freezer sections.
Wild rice, by the way, isn’t actually rice. It’s the seed of a grass that thrives in marshes and paddies in northern Minnesota, which means that, botanically, it isn’t really a grain.
“In this context, we call it one,” said Julie Miller Jones, professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, in a 2005 Taste story. “Foods are grains if they look, quack and act like grains. Wild rice has all the nutritional properties of a grain.”
Best of the best
We’ve stitched together elements from many of those Taste recipes to create what we think is a timeless version of wild rice soup, one where the star ingredient’s appealing virtues take center stage. Flexibility is one of this formula’s strongest selling points.
Want more wild rice? Add it. Don’t like carrots? Leave them out. Creminis aren’t the only mushrooms that work well; try others. Instead of chicken, use turkey, ham or bacon. Or duck, pheasant or goose. If you can find smoked versions, so much the better (smoked whitefish or salmon are especially good), because that fireside flavor goes hand in hand with wild rice.
Skip the animal proteins entirely and keep it vegetarian — tender wild rice is enough of a star — or go vegan and drop the cream, substitute olive oil or sunflower oil for the butter and enlist a mushroom or vegetable broth. Stir in spinach, broccoli, asparagus or other favorite green vegetable.
I’m not a fan of those super-thick, super-creamy wild rice soups — the dairy invariably smothers the delicate nuttiness of the wild rice — so I removed the flour (and, in some recipes, cornstarch) and cut way back on the cream, leaving a bit in for body but not enough to turn it into a savory melted sundae.
Many recipes used sherry, and a lot of it. For me, the impulse is right — this formula, even with just a small amount of cream, requires a splash of acid — but sherry felt overbearing (and who has a bottle of sherry on hand?). I replaced it with white wine, but white wine vinegar works, too.
Over the years, many wild rice soup recipes in Taste stretched the recipe’s boundaries by incorporating Canadian bacon, pimento, clam juice, Tabasco sauce, roasted tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, pumpkin and other off-kilter ingredients. Let’s leave them in the past.
By the way, this soup is delicious the next day, or the day after. Just remember that when reheating, add more chicken stock, as the wild rice will absorb whatever liquid is in the soup.
One final tip: When cooking wild rice — manoomin in Ojibwe, Zizania aquatica in Latin — why not use chicken stock instead of water? You’ll be layering in more flavor.
Oh, and if you can afford it, buy native-harvested, wood-parched wild rice. The flavor and texture are far superior to the commercially harvested hybrid version. You’ll also be supporting local agriculture, and giving your soup a true taste of Minnesota.
Just listen to the sage words of Delores O’Brien. An Ojibwe living in Minneapolis, she made this wild rice observation in a 1975 Taste story on native foods.
“My mother used to make fish soup, using the whole fish, head and all,” she said. “And of course she used to throw in some wild rice. All soups taste better with wild rice.”
Minnesota Wild Rice Soup
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: To toast almonds, place nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring (or shaking the pan frequently) until they just begin to release their fragrance, about 2 to 3 minutes.
• 1 c. raw wild rice
• 4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
• 1 yellow onion, diced
• 1 1/2 c. sliced cremini mushrooms
• 2 large or 3 small carrots, peeled and diced
• 3 ribs celery, diced
• 2 bay leaves
• 6 c. low-sodium chicken stock
• 2 c. chopped or pulled roasted chicken, skin and bones removed
• 1/4 c. heavy cream
• 2 tbsp. white wine (or 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar)
• 2 tsp. salt
• 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tsp. freshly chopped thyme leaves
• 2 tbsp. freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted (see Note)
To prepare wild rice: When cooked, wild rice generally triples in volume. Varieties differ, so follow cooking instructions on package. Place 1 cup wild rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under hot tap water for 30 seconds. Add rinsed wild rice to 3 cups water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender, 15 to 20 minutes for hand-harvested wild rice, about 60 minutes for commercially harvested wild rice. Remove from heat and reserve.
To prepare soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrots and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add bay leaves and chicken stock. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, then decrease heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add cooked wild rice, chicken, cream, white wine (or white wine vinegar), salt, pepper and thyme. Stir, and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Remove bay leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Ladle into bowls, garnish with parsley and almonds, and serve hot.
Nutrition information per each of 8 servings:
Fat 14 g
Sodium 705 mg
Carbohydrates 24 g
Saturated fat 6 g
Total sugars 3 g
Protein 18 g
Cholesterol 50 mg
Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ starch, 2 lean protein, 1 ½ fat.