Wild rice a food source for thousands of years
While I don’t usually do my grocery shopping in museums, I did bring home a treat from the National Museum of the American Indian from a recent trip to D.C. Among the arrays of books, textiles, pottery, jewelry and other souvenirs were packages of wild rice from Red Lake Nation Foods. Unlike the wild rice typically found in the supermarket, these grains were glossy black with no flaking, chipped grains or dust.
The company is owned by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota where the rice is cultivated. On their website, www.redlakenationfoods.com, they describe the symbolism behind the logo on their packaging. It features the unique shapes of the upper and lower Red Lake in Northern Minnesota, where the tribe maintains close to 850,000 acres. Their tribal government has full sovereignty over the reservation and has made stewardship of the land a key priority.
Theirs is the only American Indian tribe to cultivate wild rice, and they offer a wide variety of other food products for sale, including hand-harvested wild fruit jellies, syrups and jams. There are wild rice, rice blends, flours, batter and bread mixes, coffees, teas, and Ojibwe crafts and beadwork.
Wild rice, unlike its Asian cousins, has a dark, chewy outer sheath with a whitish inner grain and slightly nutty flavor. The rice plants grow in shallow areas of lakes and streams across the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, as well as in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Idaho. Although some of these areas produce wild rice commercially, the Red Lake Band still follows the traditional methods of harvest.
As the stalks grow, only the very tops break the surface of the water. Two people in a canoe travel into an area where the plants are growing, and one person slowly paddles the craft while the other bends the stems over the boat to knock the mature grains into the canoe. Once collected, the rice is threshed and dried for storage.
Wild rice has been a food source for thousands of years in the North American continent, with ongoing debates about its earliest cultivation and harvest. Although we may never know the exact date the Chippewa or other tribes enjoyed wild rice, their current practices avoid depleting the entire crop, always leaving some after each harvest to feed birds and mammals in the area.
Their packages of wild rice came with a small recipe booklet including the basic method for steaming it stovetop (see photo). For a more savory flavor, you can use broth or stock instead of water to cook it. If you’re going to add sautéed vegetables, cook them separately and add them after the rice is tender, so the vegetables don’t disintegrate.
Once you’ve steamed the rice, you can use it in a number of dishes. For example, add it to a meatball mixture for both texture and subtle flavor. Toss it into a salad, like the sweet and savory one from my friend Debbie LaMorte. I’ve included a stuffed mushroom recipe that came from Red Lake Nation Foods, and there are others to discover on their website.
Wild rice is high in fiber, and rich in protein, vitamins and B vitamins. It is actually not as expensive as it initially may appear, since it expands four times its size when cooked, providing more servings per cup of dry rice than white rice varieties. Who knew I could find such an interesting ingredient in a museum gift shop?
Steamed Wild Rice*
1 C wild rice (6 oz)
4 C water or broth
1/2 t salt
Rinse rice in a fine mesh strainer and place in a 3-quart saucepan. Add water or broth and bring to a boil over medium high. Reduce heat to a low simmer and partially cover. Cook until most of the liquid has absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from heat, cover tightly and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess water, sprinkle with salt and fluff with a fork. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. *Adapted from Red Lake Nation Foods
Debbie LaMorte’s Wild Rice Salad
1 C wild rice
4 C water
3 peeled navel oranges
2 celery stalks
1 C chopped nuts*
2 C watercress
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
1 minced shallot
1 t salt
zest & juice of 1 orange
1 T honey
1 t Dijon mustard
1/4 C olive oil
Rinse rice in a fine mesh strainer and place in a 3-quart saucepan. Add water and bring to a boil over medium high. Reduce heat to a low simmer and partially cover. Cook until most of the liquid has absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from heat, cover tightly and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess water, fluff with a fork and allow to cool. Chop oranges into 1-inch pieces and place in a serving bowl. Thinly slice the celery; add to the bowl. Core and chop the apple; add to the bowl. Add nuts and watercress to the bowl; add rice and toss to combine. Whisk together dressing ingredients and drizzle over rice mixture, toss gently to coat. *Either pecans or pistachios are good choices.
Wild Rice & Crab Stuffed Mushrooms*
1/2 C wild rice
2 1/4 C water
2 T butter
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 C minced onion
6 oz crab meat
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 T minced parsley
salt & pepper, to taste
12 cleaned mushroom caps
1/2 C grated cheddar cheese
Combine rice and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil then simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add garlic and onion, sauté until softened. Add cooked wild rice and crab meat; stir and cook just until heated. Whisk together egg, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Add to saucepan with rice and stir until combined. Arrange mushroom caps open side up in a single layer on a baking pan. Stuff loosely with rice mixture and top with grated cheese. Bake for 10 minutes. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
*Adapted from Red Lake Nation Foods.