Wild Rice Salad with Chicken and Tart Cherries

Nutty wild rice is tossed with leftover cooked chicken, crunchy celery, tart dried cherries and blue cheese for a beautiful fall-inspired salad. 

So here's your useless bit of trivia knowledge for the day: did you know wild rice isn't rice? In fact, it isn't even a grain, it's a seed. Wild rice is actually the seed of an aquatic, reed-like grass, putting it in the category of pseudograins like quinoa and buckwheat. Who knew?

When I write about a specific food, I mostly share things I already knew. But as I sat down to write this post on wild rice, I realized I know nothing other than it's nutritious and I love it. So, I did some googling and I was amazed by what I learned.

Wild rice is native to North America, where it grows in the wetlands of Canada, Minnesota and throughout the Great Lakes Region. There is archeological evidence of it's consumption that dates back over 12,000 years. As the story goes, the ancestors to the Ojibwa and Chippewa tribes were told by their Great Spirit to go west, to the place where food grows on water, or perish. They traveled until they found wetlands full of wild rice, and decided to make it their home. They called it manoomin, which means "good berry."

These days, 80% of the wild rice sold is a cultivated hybrid, grown in paddies and machine harvested. Yup, that's right. Most wild rice isn't even wild. Blew my mind too. Authentic wild rice is hand-harvested using a canoe then dried over a wood fire, imparting a rich smoky flavor. Compared to cultivated wild rice, it supposed to have a nuttier flavor, lighter and fluffier texture, plus it cooks in about half the time.

Nutritionally, wild rice is rich in fiber and contains about twice the amount of protein as brown rice, making it a fantastic choice for blood sugar control. It's a rich source of vitamins A, C, and E and contains a wide array of minerals, including folate, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. One study found wild rice has 30 times the antioxidants found in white rice.

My favorite way to use wild rice is in cold salads, especially when the weather is cold, as the nutty flavor goes especially well with fall flavors. I came up with this salad as a way to use up some Thanksgiving leftovers. I was so excited with how it turned out that I quickly snapped some pictures. While I used turkey and cranberry sauce, yours is probably gone by now, so feel free to swap it with chicken and fig jam or a chutney.

Wild Rice Salad with Chicken and Tart Cherries

Serves 4

For a vegan/vegetarian version, substitute the chicken or turkey for cubes of baked tofu or edamame and leave out the blue cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked wild rice
  • 1 cup shredded leftover cooked chicken or turkey, preferably organic
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 small carrots, shredded
  • 1/3 cup dried unsweetened tart cherries
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds, toasted
  • 2 large green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 4 cups arugula or baby kale

Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons cranberry relish (or any jam/chutney you have)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegary
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. First, cook the wild rice. I did mine in the pressure cooker with 2 1/3 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 30 minutes. If you don't have one, bring 3 1/2 cups water to a boil, stir in rice, reduce heat and simmer 50 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool.
  2. When the rice is at room temperature, mix in the chicken, celery, carrots, tart cherries, almonds and green onions. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Toss with the wild rice mixture. Divide the arugula among four plates. Top with wild rice salad, garnish with blue cheese and serve.