Top Wild Rice With Fruit For A Hearty Burst Of Sweetness

What's on your Thanksgiving table? Turkey, likely; stuffing, probably; maybe mashed potatoes; and canned cranberry jelly for those nostalgic folks who like its hypnotizing jiggle. From there, menus generally diffuse into any number of dishes, generally fueled by familial traditions. One dish from that litany of sides that doesn't get the love it deserves is wild rice. That's likely due to memories of the grains — which aren't technically rice, but rather derived from a semi-aquatic grass native to the U.S. — being served in passable if bland fashion. But it doesn't have to be the way. Wild rice makes a delicious and healthy side with an impressive spectrum of flavors when paired with fresh or dried fruit.

Wild rice possesses a nutty, earthy flavor and a pleasant chew that makes it the perfect base for a grain salad. These hearty dishes use grains instead of greens, but otherwise stick closely to the usual recipe for a salad, with various toppings added along with a piquant dressing. Fruit might be an unexpected choice for such a dish, but the sweetness and acidity of the fruit prove the perfect foil for the long, thin grains of the wild rice.

Tasting Table recipe developer Miriam Hahn recommends tossing wild rice with dried apricots, raisins, and pomegranate arils along with celery, nuts, and a dressing packed with the strong flavors of lemon juice, garlic, honey, and mustard. The sweet, tart, crunchy medley of fruits will round out the wild rice salad's starchy and savory components.

Changing up the fruit

Rather than relying dogmatically on a recipe for a wild rice salad, this dish is the perfect opportunity for a cook to follow their tastes and intuition. Experimentation is one of the joys of cooking, and Miriam Hahn even has some suggestions to get wild rice salad novices started: Add to or replace the dried apricots and raisins with other dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries. She also notes that some fresh sliced apple or pear, added just before serving, would make for a crunchy, delicious addition.

For the most vibrant flavors and colors, choose fruit that is in season and look for pairings therein. At the height of summer, juicy peaches and tart blackberries tossed with wild rice and a mint dressing would be a hit at a cookout. For fall or winter, reach for fresh citrus. Ripe oranges, sweet prunes, and briny feta would all make welcome additions to a winter wild rice salad.

One important thing to note is that what most Americans know as wild rice is actually a cultivated variety developed in the 1960s, and it's quite different from true wild rice, which has long been a dietary staple for the Indigenous people inhabiting the Great Lakes region before and since European colonization. This true wild rice may have a lighter or smokier flavor depending on its processing method, so be sure to adjust your fruity pairings accordingly if you choose to go with true wild rice for your salad instead of the more common, cultivated grain.