The distinctive texture and flavor of wild rice goes a long way. Add a small amount to steamed vegetables, soups and stuffings for an extra special touch.
Chewy in texture and wonderfully nutty in flavor, wild rice isn't really a rice, but a long-grained marsh grass. Native to the northern Great Lakes area, it's harvested by local Indians and also commercially produced. Wild rice can be boiled or baked and it makes a great accompaniment for poultry, duck and game meats. It's also ideal for mixing into salads, casseroles, pilafs and stuffings.
Wild rice is native to the waters of Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Canada. Grains harvested in Minnesota vary in color and length from lake to lake. They range from shades of yellow, tan and brown to almost black, and are usually longer in length than regular long-grain rice.
Canadian grains tend to be much longer, and they are often referred to as jumbo Canadian wild rice. Some grains may reach a length of one inch or longer.
True lake rice is hand-harvested, making it rather expensive. A less expensive option is cultivated rice, the type commonly found in grocery stores. Grown in controlled paddies (most are in Minnesota and California), these grains are more consistent in length and color. After drying, they may turn nearly black.
Also called Indian rice, the Native Americans in wild-rice growing areas refer to it as Mahnomen, or "good berry." It has been such an important crop that in 1750, the Ojibway battled with the Sioux for possession of the northern Minnesota lakes.
At supermarkets, wild rice is packaged alone, or mixed with other, less expensive rice varieties. Some natural food stores also sell it in bulk.
While pricey, keep in mind a little wild rice goes a long way. It expands to three to four times its original size when cooked, so one pound is enough to provide up to 35 servings. Wild rice can also go further by combining it with white or brown rice or bulghur wheat. With such a distinctive flavor, only a small amount is needed to give mixed dishes some extra warmth. It's truly a culinary pleasure worth fitting into your budget.
Stored properly, wild rice will keep almost indefinitely. Keep in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place.
Wild rice must be thoroughly cleaned before being cooked. To do this, place the wild rice in a bowl and fill it with cold water. Swish it around a few times, let sit for a few minutes and then pour off the water.
• Depending on the method used, wild rice can take up to an hour to cook