It’s time to go wild for rice

Kaitlyn Roby/Review staff

Jenna Knoblauch demonstrates Chophouse Wild Rice Salad at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair. (Vonny Rohloff/Review staff)

Kaitlyn Roby/Review staff

Beth Nelson, president of the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council answers questions and promotes wild rice at the 2014 State Fair's wild rice booth. (Vonny Rohloff/Review staff)

Kaitlyn Roby/Review staff

Versatile native grain is not just for the holidays anymore

There’s a crisp feel of autumn in the air.

Migratory birds are beginning to take flight, and gardens are in late-season bloom, with pumpkins, squash and gourds turning rich shades of orange, red and green.

Cool fall days also herald the arrival of the wild rice season. August and September are the big harvest months for wild rice in Minnesota. In fact, September is National Rice Month.

While many of us associate wild rice dishes with entertaining and the holidays, they’re actually nice any time of the year, say the culinary staff at the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council, which is based in Shoreview.

They point out that this native plant is not rice nor is it always wild! It is actually a grain, but called wild rice, and is the only cereal grain native to North America.

Wild rice, which is the nutritious seed of an aquatic grass, is Minnesota’s official state grain.

So it’s no surprise that it’s a popular item at the Minnesota State Fair, with everything from wild rice pancakes to wild rice corndogs served up daily. The Cultivated Wild Rice Council’s booth in the Dairy Building always attracts crowds for its cooking demonstrations. The day my sister Eileen and I were there, it was standing room only.

And the special activities centered on wild rice don’t end once the Fair is over. On Saturday, Sept. 13, the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville will host its 11th Annual Wild Rice Festival. (See sidebar.)

An abundance of rice

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, wild rice grows naturally in more than 1,200 lakes and rivers in 54 counties, with concentrations being the highest in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties.

Because chilly weather lingered into June and high water levels affected the rice beds, the DNR reports that some rice stands may be slow to mature this year. Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice, so peak harvest dates are estimated to be early to mid-September in 2014.

Hand-harvesting rice in the traditional method involves moving around the rice beds in an un-motorized canoe, with a push pole or paddle. The grain is collected by using two sticks or flails to knock mature seeds into the canoe. Suffice it to say it’s “labor-intensive.”

Or a simpler method of “harvesting” wild rice is to buy it in the grocery store or farmers market.

According to rice council president Beth Nelson, Minnesota’s cultivated wild rice and naturally growing wild rice are the same genus and species. Generally, the cultivated wild rice kernels are darker and firmer than those hand-harvested the traditional way.

The commercial crop is grown mostly in paddies in three areas of Minnesota: Akin, Deer River, and Clearbrook/Gonvick/Kelliher/Waskish. 

Salads, main courses, soups and more

Nelson points out that wild rice is highly nutritious, has fewer calories than regular rice, more protein, and is gluten free.

The council’s latest recipe brochure is called “Recipes and Answers to Often Asked Questions 2014 - 2015 Edition.” The brochure contains 16 recipes, a nutrition chart, and general cooking and storage tips. It even has wild rice recipes with ethnic flavors such as Mexican steak and Thai stir-fry.

Nelson says, “We feature recipes created by our own team of culinary specialists as well as recipes entered in the council’s 2014 “Get Wild with Wild Rice” recipe contest.”

Every day at the State Fair, seven different recipes from the brochure were demonstrated and the finished product was available for tasting.

It was amazing how quickly Jenna Knoblauch put together the ingredients for Chophouse Wild Rice Salad. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy the combination of wild rice and chopped vegetables mixed with balsamic vinegar dressing and blue cheese.

Each year the rice council features a new recipe brochure and contest, so start testing your recipes to enter the contest in 2015.

Nelson says wild rice recipes have evolved over the years. “Originally, wild rice was viewed as an upscale ingredient used mostly during holidays or at wild game dinners. Now people have learned how nutritious and versatile a product it is and use it in everyday cooking.”

Nelson says there is only one recipe -- Classic, Creamy Wild Rice Soup -- that is repeated every year in the brochure.  “It is our most popular and most requested recipe.”  She says it can be made with ham or chicken. 

The 2014 “Get Wild with Wild Rice” recipe contest brochure is available by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Wild Rice - MN’s State Grain; 4630 Churchill Street, Suite 1; Shoreview, MN 55126.

To enter the next wild rice recipe contest, send information to  or visit MN Cultivated Wild Rice Council on Facebook or Twitter.

Vonny Rohloff can be reached at or at 651-748-7861.

Wild rice recipes

Wild Rice

1 cup uncooked wild rice will make 3 to 4 cups cooked

Wild rice is easy to prepare. Add 1 cup uncooked wild rice to 3 to 4 cups boiling water. Return to boil; stir. Cover and simmer 30 to 60 minutes or until kernels begin to open. Drain any excess liquid. After cooking with wild rice you will find your preferred cook time and water content — texture of wild rice is a personal preference. For a chewier texture, cook for less time. For a tender, fluffier texture, cook longer.

Classic Creamy
Wild Rice Ham Soup

Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup finely chopped onion
6 Tablespoons butter with canola oil
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2 cup shredded carrots
5 ounce thick cut deli-style smoked ham, cubed
3 Tablespoons slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half
2 Tablespoons dry sherry

In large saucepan, sauté onion in butter. Add flour, stirring until bubbly; gradually stir in broth. Stir in wild rice, carrots, ham, almonds and salt; simmer 5 minutes. Stir in half and half and sherry; heat through.

Cook’s Note: Chicken may be substituted for ham.

Cherry Chicken
Wild Rice Salad

Serves 6

1 pkg. (15 oz.) boneless skinless chicken breast fillets
2 Tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 pkg. (5 oz.) dried cherries
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Dressing (whisk together; chill):
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup bottled poppyseed dressing
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In medium skillet, cook chicken in oil; cut in bite size pieces. In large bowl, combine ingredients. Add dressing; toss.

Chophouse Wild Rice Salad

Serves 4

1 lb. sirloin steak, grilled, sliced
3 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped yellow pepper
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 pkg. (4 oz.) crumbled blue cheese
Dressing (whisk together; chill):
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

In large bowl, combine ingredients. Add dressing; toss.


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