Friday, March 30, 2012

Wild Rice Pilaf with Almonds and Cremini Mushrooms

I’ve been looking for ways to eat more wild rice.  It’s high in protein and fiber, and those long, almost ebony grains look so striking on a plate. 

So when I was paging through the Union Square Café Cookbook (1994) and saw that one of the grains in their “Three-Grain Pilaf” recipe was wild rice, I was eager to try it.  I’d have to make a substitution for the wheat berries (one of the other three grains), but otherwise this pilaf sounded elegant, chewy, and nutty - the perfect accompaniment to the simple roast chicken I was making for dinner.

Adapting the Recipe
Wheat berries are definitely not gluten-free, but I wanted to preserve their basic size and cooking time in the recipe, so I’ve replaced them with brown rice.  I used brown basmati rice, but I’ll bet brown jasmine rice, with its amazing aroma and slightly more delicate shape, would be wonderful here as well.  To make this recipe dairy-free, I’ve substituted extra virgin olive oil for the butter.

The recipe also called for fresh shiitake mushrooms.  I was hoping this recipe might become a staple in our dinner rotation, so I used cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake.  Fresh shiitake mushrooms are amazing, but I’m more likely to have a member of the royal family in my kitchen.

This recipe needed a little doctoring.  It needed much more salt, so I increased it from 1/8 tsp. to ½ tsp.  I also added a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar in the last minute for brightness and acidity (a nice trick I learned from a cooking instructor at Sur La Table).  That mere teaspoon didn’t make this pilaf taste like vinegary rice salad; it just made the individual flavors of the wild rice, almonds, and mushrooms, which had become a little muddied, a little more distinctive.  I also added some dried cranberries, partly for color and partly because the sweet notes balanced out the other earthy tastes.  In the end, this was very tasty.  We not only enjoyed it with roast chicken the first night, but we ate the rest with a side of scrambled eggs the next day for a quick lunch.

¼ C. brown basmati rice
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
¼ C. wild rice
1 2/3 C. water
¼ C. white wine
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ C. white basmati or jasmine rice
2 C. quartered cremini mushrooms (4 oz.)
1/3 C. whole almonds, with skin, coarsely chopped (2 oz.)
5 scallions, outer layer peeled and thinly sliced (just over 1/3 C.)
3 T. dried cranberries
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Soak the brown basmati rice in cold water for 15 minutes to rinse off the extra starch.  Drain.

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat ½ T. of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the wild rice and the drained brown rice, stirring well to coat the grains.  After a minute of sautéing, add the water, white wine, bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once it boils, cover, lower the heat, and gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in the white basmati or jasmine rice and return to a simmer.  Continue to cook, covered, without any further stirring or peeking, for 20 minute more.  Remove the rice from the heat and allow it to finish steaming, covered, while you sauté the mushrooms and almonds (about 7-8 minutes). 

Heat the remaining ½ T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms until soft but still retaining most of their shape, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the almonds and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until the almonds begin to give off a delicious roasted scent.  Stir in most of the chopped scallions (reserve some for the garnish), all of the cranberries and cooked rice.  Add the vinegar and stir gently to distribute.

Spoon the pilaf into a warm bowl, sprinkle with the reserved scallions, and serve.

Serves 4-6.

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