Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Wild California Rice. Have you tried it?  It’s obviously not local to Pennsylvania, but it is a sustainable, healthful, and tasty addition to your year-round pantry. It’s perfect for stretching meats or mushrooms, stuffing poultry, making cabbage rolls, stuffing squash, tomatoes, or peppers, and adding to substantance tol cold salads and soups.

Wild rice is actually not a true rice, but is instead an aquatic grain. It is an extremely important food in Native American traditions, where the ritual of harvest, drying and hulling is an important cultural touchstone to old ways. Nutritionally it is a powerhouse, near quinoa in protein content. It is not certified organic, but no pesticides or herbicides are necessary, and the water used is carefully managed to conserve and reuse before allowing it to drain back to the source.

This California wild rice is a more production-oriented product than the wild indigenous product. It is farmed from similar grains as the truly wild rice, but is instead intensively managed making it more productive and reasonably priced. The flavor is hard to describe, being somewhat floral, nutty, and smoky at once. The texture when properly cooked is toothy and substantial; and a 1/4 – 1/2  cup portion is really filling.  It really is a different ingredient entirely from regular rice – a direct substitution would certainly work, but might not be exactly what you had in mind.

Wild rice takes longer than more common white rices; about 45 – 55 minutes. Cooked rice also freezes well, so packets of precooked rice or other whole cooked grains like farro, spelts, or rye berry is a handy ingredient to have at the ready in your freezer. I really had no recipe in mind, just wanted to spend some time getting to know the rice, so I cooked the entire pound bag, even though I was cooking just for myself.  I mean, if I am going to boil a grain for almost an hour, I want to make that hour count, right?

From my pound of dry rice, I got about 14 loosely measured cups of cooked rice, of which I scooped approximate two cup portions into zip lock freezer bags, squeezed the air out as completely as possible, flattening and sealing the packages. I lay them flat on a plate and freeze, then the packages once frozen will stack neatly upright and fill as little freezer space as possible.

So, now I have seven 2 cup portions of frozen rice, ready to quickly steam as a side or toss into soups and recipes. Your milaege may vary. What are we gonna make? When cooking Rancho Gordo products, I always return to their Rancho Gordo Recipes for inspiration. Steve Sando rubs elbows with some diverse and interesting food people, and the recipes and ideas always give me if not specifics, direction.

The linked recipe for stuffing caught my attention. Of course I did not make it exactly, since my rice was already cooked, and I didn’t really have all the ingredients, but I was close. And just because it is called stuffing, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good in a bowl, by itself, as a main dish. I did stuff a roasted squash for lunch, brushed first with Swad coriander chutney, garnished with a plop of thick whole milk yogurt,  it was a bright spot in a dark, dreary, rainy day.

The recipe makes about six cups, and I only used one, so once again, I have cooked for both now and later, and when summer squash and chickens arrive, I am so ready with a frozen quart ready and waiting. By the way, freezing grains has very little effect on their quality, particularly if you cook them a tiny bit al dente. Mushy overcooked grains will not magically improve in the freezer.

Okay, here we go, to the printable recipe:

Wild Rice Stuffing

This recipe will stuff a 12-pound turkey or half a dozen game hens. It's delicious as a side dish for meats, as a filling for cabbage rolls, squashes, ingredient in soups & salads, or simply on its own.
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups cooked wild California Rice
  • 1/2 - 2 tsp Mexican Oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, pork, elk, venison, or bison
  • 1 can green chilis
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped and lightly toasted pecans
  • 2 Tbs fresh orange zest

Instructions
 

  • Sauté meat in heavy large skillet over medium heat until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. If your skillet has excess grease or liquid, drain the beef, and remove excess from pan. 
  • Add chiles and onions to the meat. Continue to sauté over medium heat until onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes, adding a bit of liquid if necessary to keep beef from becoming dry. 
  • Add the cooked wild rice (frozen is okay), sauté gently until heated through, again taking care to keep it moist, not wet. Stir in the pecans and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate once cool. If you'd like to serve as a side dish, re-warm covered in 350°F. oven for 20 minutes.) Transfer to bowl and serve. 
  • If using as poultry stuffing, cool completely and fill bird. 

Notes

When I purchase a bag of wild rice, I cook the entire pound, which I then portion a loose two cups into ziplock pint bags for the freezer. Cooked slightly al dente, the rice is a really handy ingredient to have ready for fast meals and saved cooking time, as wild rice takes about an hour.
*Also, about the orange zest - whenever I have good oranges, I always scrub the outside and zest the orange before peeling, saving the zest in a freezer container for later recipes. If you don’t have it, you could substitute chopped apple, parsley, lemon zest, raisins or cranberries for a fresh bit of bright flavor; it's a flexible recipe overall. 
No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

I don’t have much time, or kitchen space for elaborate preserving projects anymore. So, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will be quick, flexible, but still remind me in the heart of January that the dark, frozen nights will again be soft and desk, with tomatoes, still warm from the garden. See, that connection to my own Pennsylvania summer is a real spirit lifter – one which canned tomatoes from the supermarket just cannot match.

Elimination thinking makes my decision super-easy; this uncooked tomato sauce, straight from the freezer tastes exactly like summer,  is compact and efficient to store in my freezer, and quick and easy to use in lots of ways later. 

 

Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. You can add herbs and spices when you use it later if you wish. Oh, and this sauce plain is beautiful with fresh mozzarella… and allows a bit of good olive oil to really shine.

Here’s a link to the more specific recipe.  It makes four servings to be eaten right away but to preserve larger quantities for freezing, simply repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.

 

The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.

 

The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander. Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight

 

For me,  one cup portions in freezer bags is the perfect size. One cup feeds two with plenty of  leftovers for the next few days.  Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.

Fill your freezer bags, squeeze out any air, and stack flat on a baking sheet or plate to freeze. Onse frozen stiff, the packages can be stacked upright in a container, and are easy to see and access in your freezer, and take little space. 

 

Pouches of finished sauce, in my freezer stash. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.

 

Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced.  I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.

Use your sauce to make summer-fresh Margarita pizzas, toss in the crock pot or dutch oven for a stew or braise, soup, with a pot of beans, anything that can use some fresh tomato flavor. Since the star of this project is the tomato, I wouln’t bother with thick walled, tough-skinned, weak flavored commodity varieties. This is meant as a celebration of the flavor of local, peak-of=freshness, sloppy, flavorful old-fashioned and heirloom varieties.  

 

Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

 

Also, when you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.

  • Base for Bloody Marys
  • Braising liquid
  • Reduction for intensely tomato flavored sauces
  • Added flavoring for beer or vodka
  • Base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce
  • Poaching liquid for seafood, shrimp, calamari or lobster
  • Dressing for fresh oysters
  • Marinade for white fish
  • Vinaigrette mix-in
  • Liquid for cooking rice or grains
  • Refreshing chilled beverage served over ice, with basil

 

Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free flavor & nutrient booster?

An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…

The most complicated part of this approach is using a food mill if you have never used one. It makes for a really nice texture and removes the peel and seeds. A food mill is not necessary though, and this sauce will be just as tasty finely chopped by hand.

If you could only do one, what would your single tomato preserving project be?