Wild rice and I share a checkered past. For a rather long time, we grappled with an unfortunate misunderstanding. Nothing complicated, nothing original, nothing that hasn’t happened to others in the past.
Simply put, I hated wild rice.
Let me take you back a bit, to the whimsical years of my childhood. I have a gigantic extended family, meaning there’s also a gigantic amount of family functions. With each generation of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, there follow a cluster of graduations, weddings, and babies—all of which must be celebrated. For the better part of the 1990s, these occasions were all held at the same country club, where a set of my aunts, uncles, and cousins all had memberships.
As a child wandering around a room filled with boring grown-ups, flanked by a herd of cousins, my focus was solely fixed on one goal—food. Here was where the best and the worst of these events came into play. On one hand, there were delicious entrees galore, not to mention the bowls full of minty white chocolate discs that sat on various side tables against the walls. I lived for those candies. Still do, even though I now know that—rather than the absurdly gourmet item they seem—you can buy them at Hobby Lobby.
However, on the other hand, the side dishes were iffy, their quality heavily dependent on which relative had picked the menu. Sometimes it would end up entirely bearable, just a plain stack of green beans or perhaps a plop of mashed potatoes. However, inevitably, at some kid’s graduation party or confirmation luncheon, the side dish would be wild rice pilaf.
An unappetizing melange of crunchy, undercooked wild rice, bland white rice, and an assortment of mushy vegetables, wild rice pilaf was any six-year-old’s worst nightmare. Even worse than the one I had about mariachi singers taking over my house.
After politely shifting the grainy mixture around my plate with a polished, reluctant fork, I would summarily dismiss it and move on to the steak and its beefy mushroom sauce. Definitely a tastier option.
It was in this manner, with my childhood apprehensions firmly resting in the back of my mind and a trusty Rebecca Rather cookbook in my hand, I set out to give wild rice one more chance. Rather than a poorly-conceived combination of mismatched veggies, this blend of wild rice, chickpeas, and a kick of curry has given me fresh hope. Accents of raisins and green onions provide another layer of savory-sweet flavor, taking the salad from a place of deliciousness to a place of dangerously addictive yum. Lemon and honey and Dijon mustard make it beyond bafflingly good.
It is this transportation from my misconceptions about wild rice that has made me a true believer. There’s nothing I love more than being proved wrong in such a delightful way. I love it even more than a campy new episode of “Teen Wolf.”
Now that’s saying something. Give it a try and you’ll agree.
Curried Wild Rice and Chickpea Salad
Recipe adapted from “The Pastry Queen” by Rebecca Rather
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound smoked ham, diced
8 small green onions, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
salt and pepper, to taste
hot sauce—such as Cholula or Tabasco—to taste
Cook the wild rice according to package instructions.
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add olive oil, whisking until combined. Add the chickpeas, ham, green onions, raisins, and wild rice, tossing to coat with dressing. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce, to taste, again stirring to combine.
Serve at room temperature.