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
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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


25 Responses to “I finally learn to cook with Minnesota wild rice”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Yummmmm! I have used wild rice quite a bit and I love the nutty flavor. I tend to use more brown rice and wild rice than white rice anymore as it is healthier and a bit better for us to eat. I need to start calling them hotdishes……I I just now am picking up calling them “bars” so why not add another local (or kind of local) word for the deliciousness that is a casserole!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, yes, bars. Our daughters boyfriend, who recently relocated from LA to St. Paul, is learning our lingo as well, having questioned exactly what we meant by “bars” and “hotdish.”

      • Beth Ann Says:

        It cracks me up. Kind of like when we lived in the South I had to learn “buggy” and we won’t even go into the Australian lingo….that is a world of its own!

  2. Erin Says:

    I have made chicken wild rice soup in the crockpot and it was a little bland for our tastes as well. A little Artisian bread on the side did help.
    Our family went to the Mille Lacs Indian Museum last fall and watched a wild rice harvesting demo. It’s unbelievable how much work and time goes in it. My Dad is a teacher at the reservation and they teach the students the timely process.
    I will have to put this hot dish on my menu for next week! My sister in law is visiting from FL for the very first time and this would be a true MN hot dish to serve.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is great to hear that the tradition of harvesting wild rice continues to be passed down through the generations. I’ve seen video and the process certainly does appear labor intensive.

      This hotdish would be great to serve to your visiting sister-in-law. But, yeah, you may want to spice it up a bit. I’m not much into cooking, so I don’t know what to recommend. But all in all, it’s a wonderful dish and artisan bread would complement it well. Or even a leafy salad would be good.

  3. Jean Says:

    There is a canned cooked wild rice made by Canoe in the grocery store. It is ready to eat and you can microwave it. I learned this from my mom. Then you can put the meal together faster. It yields about 1.5 cups.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for the tip, Jean. I had no idea. I’ll be good with my supply of raw wild rice for quite awhile, though. But good to know about the canned version as a time-saver. How’s the taste and quality?

  4. Lanae Says:

    When I cook wild rice I will do the whole bag and freeze the cooked rice I don’t use. Just don’t leave it to long so it gets freezer burn. I like to take it to the family rebellion as I know that no one else ever brings wild rice. My husband thinks it is gross, the smell, taste and look. What can I say he is from Iowa…..

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Now that’s another good idea. Oh, oh, better watch those Iowa comments. One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Ann, lives in Iowa. Good thing she has a sense of humor.

  5. Hmm….I cook with Basmati rice quite a lot, which is so NOT native. This is a great nudge to get back to something homegrown. That hotdish looks like the perfect January comfort food. In our house, it would get a little boost from the hot pepper sauce my husband is forever bringing to the table. By the way, if you ever want to spice up popcorn, try sprinkling pepper sauce on it. It’s really good.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, I’m going to have some leftover hotdish for lunch today, so perhaps I will add a sprinkle of hot pepper sauce. It is the perfect comfort food for this time of year.

  6. jhc1218 Says:

    Jason and I really enjoy wild rice and we cook with it quite often mostly in soups and hotdishes. One of my all-time favorite wild rice dishes is the Mahnomin Porridge at Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. Healthy it is not, but it is so good especially on cold winter days. Here is the recipe:
    4 cups cooked wild rice
    1/4 cup pure maple syrup (plus more for serving)
    1/4 cup dried blueberries
    1/4 cup craisins
    1/2 cup roasted cracked hazelnuts – I’ve used pecans and it is still good.
    1 cup heavy cream (plus more, warmed, for serving)
    In a heavy non-stick sauté pan, add the cooked wild rice, heavy cream, and maple syrup, and warm through. Add the blueberries, craisins, and hazelnuts, and stir to mix well. Serve in a bowl with sides of warm heavy cream and maple syrup.

  7. Jackie Says:

    Your hot dish looks yummy Audrey! I cook with wild rice once a year. I make a chicken wild rice soup for our progressive dinner in December, It’s always a hit!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, yum, I love chicken wild rice soup. I have a pot of chicken soup on the stove simmering right now. No wild rice in it, though, as I don’t want to overdo a good thing and eat too much wild rice this week.

      • chance3689 Says:

        Wild rice is great. Cold chicken wild rice salad in summer; chicken wild rice soup in winter with a heavy hand of cheese!
        Various other things here and there.


      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Both sound great, especially the soup with that “heavy hand of cheese.”

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time, Audrey, and this is the first time I’ve seen you as a food blogger! I’ve cooked with wild rice before but here, because the product is imported, it’s just so expensive that I’ve only cooked with it on a few occasions. I made a rice salad with it and it was delicious. Love the look of your recipe and you’ve inspired me to go out and purchase more of this wonderful rice xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Great observation, Charlie. I will never pretend to be a food blogger, although I have blogged in the past about food I’ve made such as chocolate cake and cookies. That was probably before you began reading my blog. It’s pretty clear that spending time in the kitchen is not one of my favorite activities. But I sure do enjoy reading all of your great food and other stories.

  9. Good for you, trying a new thing! I love wild rice. I haven’t made my favorite wild rice soup for a long time – better get on it! When I cook it I always give it more time than it says – I cook it until it’s curly, pretty much. Your casserole looks good!

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