Take a wild ride with rice

Introductions are in order. In this dish, you'll meet wild rice, first harvested in the United States by Native Americans, and basmati rice, much prized in India for thousands of years.

Both are wonders of the culinary world. Wild rice was considered a gift from the Great Spirit, the Creator himself, and basmati, a Sanskrit word, definitely lives up to its translation, "the fragrant one."

Wild rice and basmati rice come to us practically straight from nature. Wild rice, the seed of grasses now primarily grown in farm paddy fields, is never refined.

Brown basmati rice is a whole grain that hasn't lost its valuable germ and bran layer. Because of this, both pack great vitamins as well as minerals, and both are about 14 percent protein.

But we all care about something besides health benefits when we take that first bite. Wild rice delivers a sweet taste, and its dark brown or black seeds provide a nutlike texture. Basmati rice has a delicate flavor and lightness that come from its long grains.

A bonus is the aroma that will waft through your house when the pilaf is just about ready. Together these two grains make one wonderful dish.

Wild rice pilaf

Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Servings: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
2 cups each: water, vegetable broth
1 cup each: brown basmati rice, wild rice
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon marjoram
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon each: black pepper, turmeric, paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 package (8 ounces) baby bello, crimini or button mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
¼ cup each, chopped: green onions, fresh basil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 sprig fresh basil

1. Heat a large Dutch oven on medium high heat. Brush the bottom with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add onions and garlic; cook until onions begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add celery, carrots and ginger; cook, 5 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat water and broth to a boil in a saucepan. Rinse the basmati rice and wild rice separately; drain.

3. Push vegetables to sides of the Dutch oven. Brush half the remaining oil on the bottom in the open space; add basmati rice. Cook until fragrant and a little browner, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wild rice. Slowly add boiling broth mixture, followed by bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, salt, black pepper, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Stir. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid; place in oven. Cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 1 hour.

4. Heat a skillet over medium heat, 1 minute; brush bottom with remaining oil. Add mushrooms and green onions; cook, 3 minutes. Remove from heat; add chopped basil and soy sauce. Stir in mushroom mixture. Garnish with basil sprig.

Nutrition Information:
Per serving: 151 calories, 31% of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 24 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 743 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.

-- Kay Stepkin is a vegetarian cooking class instructor and former owner of a vegetarian restaurant/bakery. Email her at foods@tribune.com.

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