Wild rice

Wild rice has a rich, nutty flavour and a delicate, crisp bite, adding nutrition and stylish good looks to any dish. Here's how to cook with it.

07 Nov 2009

The wild rice story

Wild rice is not rice at all, but the seeds of an aquatic plant. The wild rice we see in specialist grocery stores today are most probably imported from the lake regions of Minnesota in the United States where it has been harvested for centuries by the Native American Indians. Though wild rice is mostly associated with the United States and Canada, varieties are also grown in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Southern China.

Cooked wild rice has a rich nutty flavour, sometimes described as a smoky flavour, and a texture that is delightfully chewy. The slender, elongated grains are usually about one-half inch in length and almost black in colour with some touches of green. Premium grades of truly wild, uncultivated wild rice sold in gourmet markets can be as long as one-inch and the colours can vary from medium brown to nearly pure black.

Natural wild rice can be pricey, but is well worth the money. It is a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin and contains almost double the amount of protein compared to normal white or brown rice. It provides a perfect, filling meal for those who are reducing calories; one cup of cooked, wild rice contains only 130 calories whereas a cup of cooked regular rice contains twice as much.

To cook, rinse one cup of wild rice well, removing any loose husks. Measure 3 parts water to 1 part wild rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender, about 35 to 55 minutes. Cooking time varies according to the variety and how it was processed; generally, if it's really dark black it takes longer. If desired, add another grain like barley to the rice at the beginning, or add jasmine rice or some other white rice after the wild rice has cooked for 20 minutes.

If you want the rice to be softer, add more water at the beginning and cook for about an hour. The husks may loosen from the grain, but the nutrition and crunch will still be there. Be careful not to overcook as the wild rice will lose its fragrance and characteristic robust texture, and may coagulate due to the starch that is released. Don't add salt to the cooking as this could destroy the natural, nutty taste of the rice ? you can always sprinkle some over after it has cooked. Fluff gently before serving.

You can use wild rice in any recipes you usually use regular rice for, especially if the recipe calls for the rice to be cooked separately first. If you're going to use it in a stuffing, stew, soup, casserole, or salad, don't boil it until it's mushy.

Wild rice pairs well with pork, venison, poultry, especially game birds like duck, and with shellfish. It's often served plain, with a knob of butter, but you can mix it with nuts, bacon, hearty greens, wild mushrooms, colourful vegetables, dried fruits, or fresh fruits, in both salads and cooked meals. It can be added to soups and stews to add texture and flavour; makes a brilliant stuffing for poultry as well as tomatoes, squash and green pepper; can be used in quiches and of course rice pilaf. It's also used in desserts, such as classic rice pudding.

Suggested recipes

Fig and cashew nut pilaf
A heady mix of garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange juice, figs and cashew nuts, mixed with wild rice and served with coriander yoghurt.

Mushroom rice
Mushrooms and wild rice are a perfect pair. In this recipe you combine it with black pepper, lentils and basmati rice for a delicious vegetarian meal.

Prawn, mango and butternut curry
A quick and easy meal that's loaded with all the good stuff. Prawns, curry sauce (ready made), cream, mangoes, butternut and cherry tomatoes are cooked together and served on wild rice.

Chicken roll with orange sauce
A meal fit for a king. Whole, deboned chicken is stuffed with wild rice, pecan nuts, apricots, ham and chives, rolled up and roasted to perfection. Served with an orange juice and Grand Marnier sauce.

Wild rice and kingklip salad
Dip slices of kingklip in egg and sesame seeds and fry until done. Then make a salad with it, adding tomato, cucumber, wild rice, garlic and soy sauce. Healthy and delicious.

Spicy peppe
Wild rice makes an excellent stuffing for vegetables such as green, yellow or red peppers. Mix with garlic, feta, basil, tomato and chilli and bake.

Sole with mushroom sauce
Sole fillets are poached in white wine and served with assorted mushrooms, asparagus and toasted pine nuts on a bed of wild rice.

10 things to do with wild rice

Mushroom rice 

Roast chicken with rice and apricots 

Rice dropscones with ratatouille 

Curried banana and rice salad 

Mussel and rice mix 

Prawn, mango and butternut curry 

Salmon trout and wild rice kedgeree

Fruit and nut pilaf

Roasted poussin with rosemary stuffing

Stir-fried savoury rice




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