When I moved to Minnesota for graduate school I found that people there pride themselves on a few things. One was how cold it gets in the winter. I had my Vermont license plates for the first year I was there and there were countless times when I was getting gas, washing my car, etc. that people around me would ask about the winters in Vermont. It took me a while to realize that most people saw Vermont as another state with good, strong winters, and people wanted to know how Minnesota stacked up against it. Usually what I would say was, "Vermont has more snow, but Minnesota is colder." That summed it up pretty well and still left Minnesota as frozen king of the Northern states.
Another thing that Minnesotans pride themselves on is wild rice. To be honest, I had never heard of it before I moved there but once I lived in Minnesota it was all over the place. It was in soups, in casseroles, in the store, we talked about it in my classes at school, (I was doing a degree in plant genetics so that might have something to do with it being in my classes) it was everywhere. Once I finally tried some, I realized that just like the freezing temperatures, wild rice is something the Minnesotans were right to be proud of. (Well, I'm not sure you should be proud about living in an arctic wastleland, but there's no denying that it's cold there in the winter.) Wild rice has a light nutty flavor, great texture and distinctive look. Since I've lived in Minnesota I've tried quite a few recipes that use wild rice, and this pilaf is one of my favorites. What I love about it is that all those great characteristics of the wild rice aren't over-shadowed by the other ingredients. The pecans and cranberries blend so well with it, and the white rice helps keep everything from being too overpowering. (Plus, wild rice can be pretty expensive, so mixing it with cheap old white rice is a great way to make it go farther.) You can find wild rice in most supermarkets (even out here in Utah) near the regular long grain rice.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Pecans and Cranberries
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
8 sprigs thyme
1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
2 T olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped fine
1 onion, minced
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse
2 T minced fresh parsley
1. Bring the broth, bay leaves and 4 sprigs of the thyme to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the wild rice and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue to simmer until the wild rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, 35-40 minutes. Drain the rice, discarding the bay leaves and thyme. Return the wild rice to the pot and cover to keep warm.
2. While the wild rice cooks, heat 1 T of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the carrots, onion, and 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Stir in the white rice and cook, stirring often, until the edges of the grains begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the water, cranberries and remaining 4 thyme springs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue to simmer until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, 16 to 18 minutes.
4. Combine the cooked wild rice and white rice, pecans and parsley in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with remaining T oil and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Yield: 12 servings (This is not an overestimate, either. If you aren't serving a large crowd, consider halving the recipe. I usually make an entire batch and eat the leftovers for lunch for a whole week, but that's just me.)
Recipe source: adapted from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook