June 13, 2011

Curried Wild Rice and Chickpea Salad

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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

Printable Recipe

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.


  1. Erk! It is horrible as a child to have to attend grown up events - particularly when the food is not nice. I still have nightmares about a boiled celery dish.

    However, isn't it lovely to discover a new friend in a food you had consigned to 'ugh!' - There is a can of chickpeas in my store cupboard - it had been destined for hummus but I'm going to make this instead.

  2. I think I might be a believer now too. I've never tried wild rice before, but this looks wonderful. I'm loving the sound of the curry, lemon, mustard flavours, and the chickpeas of course. Hurray for conquering food demons!

  3. Oh my this dish looks divine.

    But hold on. Minty WHITE CHOCOLATE discs? Ummm... I need to find this. Lol!


  4. LOL I am so there bella....I really loathed wild rice as a kid but came to love it so much as an adult...so glad our taste buds changed and we broaden our horizons! this sounds great

  5. Just came over via Tastespotting.... this salad looks wonderful! I'm always on the lookout for recipes using wild rice - my favorite - and I will definitely be making this salad sometime soon.

  6. My husband is just like that, too! He is not a fan of wild rice because it is too crunchy in texture for his Japanese-American sensibilities used to soft, sticky rice. But I might just have to try this version to see if I can change his mind. ;)

  7. This looks delicious!
    I am so impressed with your photography skills. What camera do you use? How did you get to be so good? ;)

  8. my hubby hates wild rice..I think his mom "killed" it for him. I am sure he woudl love this. great pics!


  9. @Hester: Ugh! Boiled celery does not sound like a fun kid food at all. But you're right, it is nice to be surprised by how your taste buds have grown up.

    @Suzler: Victory for the chickpeas! hehehe

    @Maria Diana: Yes ma'am! Minty white chocolate discs. They're absolutely divine.

    @mangiabella: Isn't it great to discover a love for something new? :)

    @Lauren: Thank you! If you're a wild rice fan, this will definitely hit the spot. :D

    @Carolyn: Soft, sticky rice is definitely a delicious thing, but I agree that there should be room for the crunchy stuff as well. Nothing like perfect, rice-y harmony. :D

    @Kristen: Thank you!! I use a pint-sized Nikon D3100 named Schatzi, with lots of practice and blurry photos behind the scenes. :D

    @sweetlife: You never know, there's always a chance to rekindle the love for wild rice. Happened for me!

  10. AnonymousJune 18, 2011

    Hey there! This is my first time posting a comment ever, but I just made this last night for my boyfriend and it was outstanding! He was extremely impressed so I looked amazing. Thanks so much!

  11. This looks great!!! I have some wild rice needing to go into a recipe. ;)

  12. This looks absolutely fabulous!! The raisins and ham in it combined with the wild rice and beans sound so good! I'm gonna have to try this! :)

  13. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I've made it quite a few times already and will make it over and over again. Whoever tries it asks me for a recipe, it's that good! Hope you don't mind but I shared this recipe on my blog! :) oddchildinthecity.blogspot.com


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