Foodbyte #5: Eureka! Wild rice is as easy to make as Rice-A-Roni (and it tastes better, too!)

images-2One thing that happens when you start to simplify your eating habits and explore your extended neighborhood for locally-grown produce is you wind up trying new things.    Dropping processed foods creates a void–and it’s a fun adventure to see what winds up filling it.

Last year when I was beginning the journey of exploration of my local food resources in Central New Jersey, I went to the Griggstown Farm Market and made an impulse buy of a bag of wild rice.  It was $7.00, which to me was a real guilty pleasure, considering you can buy those little tubes of Goya rice for less than $1.

It sat there on the middle shelf in my cabinet for months, and then got moved to the upper shelf.  I really didn’t know what to do with this stuff that  looked like the Marlboro Man of rice–rugged and swarthy compared to the Harvey Milquetoast of plain old white rice.

My vegan daughter came for dinner last weekend, and when she foraged in my cabinet she came across the rice.  “Let’s make this, Mom!”  So we invested the 45 minutes it takes to cook wild rice, and used it as an accompaniment to our grilled, skewered veggie-kabobs.

It was great–a bit nutty tasting with a lot of texture.   I was so intrigued by how different it was compared to the standard white rice, rice pilaf, yellow rice, and even brown rice, I looked it up.    According to Wikipedia:

Wild rice is any of the four species of plants that make up the genus Zizania (common names:Canada riceIndian rice, and water oats), a group ograsses that grow in shallow water in smalllakes and slow-flowing streams; often, only the flowering head of wild rice rises above the water. The genus is closely related to true rice, genus Oryza, which is also a grass, and shares the tribe Oryzeae. Three species of wild rice are native to North America:

The other great thing about wild rice is its nutritional content–apparently it compares favorably against even brown rice in terms of the amount of protein, Vitamin E and folate one serving of wild rice has vs. brown.  Here’s a cool site where I looked at the nutritional facts of wild rice.

The barrier that caused this nutritional gem to be relegated to the top shelf of my cabinet for almost a year was because I had the idea wild rice is harder to make than other rice.  That’s not true.  I have a small stockpot, and I used it to sweat some onion, throw in the rice, add water, and then put the whole pot (you can use a casserole dish as well) into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  That’s it!  If you’re in a hurry, maybe Rice-a-Roni is better, but for an extra 20 minutes, you have something really special.

I guess the point is, sometimes it’s worth it to make the effort to try something new, gastronomically speaking.  It’s usually easier than you think.  If you are interested in eating healthier and more sustainably, pick up something you never had before the next time you go to your favorite local or natural foods market.   An hour of time or less invested in learning something new and overcoming barriers of unfamiliarity with a new food may pay off in a great way to fill in a void normally filled in your diet by something processed and packaged.