Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I finally learn to cook with Minnesota wild rice January 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

TO CONFESS THAT I am a native Minnesotan who’s never cooked with wild rice may equate a sin. I’m not sure. If anything, such a confession is akin to a Norwegian admitting he/she has never tasted lutefisk.

Minnesota blogger Sue Ready, when she learned that I’d never cooked with wild rice, remedied that. She gifted me with a pound of 100 percent wild rice from Quality Rice Products, Inc., Garrison. How kind was that? I’ve never met Sue, who blogs at Ever Ready. But she encompasses what I’ve come to expect in the bloggers I follow—a deep-rooted goodness.

If you check out Sue’s blog (click here), you will soon discover an abundance of recipes woven into her posts. She clearly enjoys time in the kitchen. I do not.

But I was up to the challenge Sue presented in that bag of wild rice. I chose one of her recipes, Artichoke Turkey Casserole, which includes 1 ½ cups of wild rice, for my debut attempt at cooking with northern Minnesota’s beloved grain.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

The first problem: How do I even make wild rice?

I found instructions tucked inside the bag, but then faced my first obstacle. How do you rinse and drain wild rice without the kernels filtering through the colander? Do not use a colander apparently.

Next, after cooking the rice for the specified 45 minutes, the grain still crunched beneath my teeth. So I added another seven minutes to the simmer time and called it good, not really knowing whether I’d cooked the rice long enough or too long.

I just want to note here that the nutty aroma of the wild rice intrigues me. It smells of earth, although not precisely of earth. Perhaps rather the scent combines earth, water, fire, sky, even the history and traditions of the Ojibwe, early harvesters of this manoomin, the “good berry.”

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Because I’d cooked the rice earlier in the day, I resumed making the hotdish with the dicing of vegetables—carrots, onion and red pepper—and the boiling of noodles. I already had the two cups of chicken (substituted for the turkey) which my husband grilled the previous evening.

About 45 minutes later, I had the dish pulled together with the assistance of the husband who sliced artichokes, stirred together cream of chicken soup and milk, and measured cheese while I chopped and sauteed the veggies and tended the noodles. Typically I can multi-task in the kitchen, but preparing this hotdish took way more time than I anticipated and I was getting hungry. And, as everyone in my family knows, I get crabby when I can’t eat at my usual time.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

When I eventually pulled the hotdish from the oven, I couldn’t wait to dig my fork into this truly Minnesotan dish. I suppose an explanation is due here to those of you unfamiliar with Minnesota’s version of casseroles, known in our state as hotdish. Most hotdishes include a cream soup and noodles, this one no exception.

I wondered, though, about that combination of noodles and wild rice. But it works. The crunchy texture of the rice kernels pairs well with the creamy consistency of the noodle mixture.

Even though this hotdish includes a teaspoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of parsley flakes, I found the flavor a bit too bland for my taste.

Yet, with a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper added,  it’s a tasty and filling comfort food for a cold Minnesota winter evening.

Now that I’ve assured myself I can cook with wild rice—a food which always intimidated me—I’m ready to try preparing wild rice soup. After all, a cup of raw rice equals five cups of cooked rice, meaning I have plenty of manoomin for additional dishes.

Thanks, Sue, for expanding my cooking skills via your gift of Minnesota wild rice.

HAVE YOU COOKED with wild rice and, if so, what’s your favorite dish to prepare?

FYI: To try Sue’s Artichoke Turkey Casserole, an adaptation of a Better Homes and Gardens Comfort Foods recipe, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements