Wow, that Risotto with Porcinis and Blueberries was so good we just had to think of some other savory way to use these tasty new world treats. New world? Yep, blueberries come from the Americas, just like tomatoes and potatoes and corn and pumpkin and many, many other foods. In thinking about new world foods, we thought that maybe we could use some of the blueberries in a dish comprised of all new world foods. Wouldn’t that be cool? Well, at least in a geeky, foodologist, kinda way, it might be a little cool.
So, we started thinking about what we had around the house that was from the new world to see what we could make: Blueberries, yep, just as we discussed. Hmm. We have a big bag of wild rice. That’s definitely new world. Pecans: new world and tasty! (We actually think pecans are the best kind of nut on the planet.) Then, we checked what we were getting in our CSA share — bell peppers: new world. Seems as if we could make up a new world version of rice pilaf.
Well, we didn’t quite do it, and that was mainly because we wanted to use onions (old world) for flavoring, and then add a bit of Basmaiti rice (old world) for fluffiness. Plus we used olive oil (old world) for sautéing and two types of mushrooms (old & new world varieties), but, overall, we did pretty well. Plus, it turned out great.
Serves 4 as a generous side
Wild rice takes a long time to cook, no doubt about it; but, it does have a lot of flavor that pairs nicely with nuts. It’s expensive in the stores, but, if you live in, or visit the Upper Midwest, you should be able to find wild rice in large bags (3 pounds) for about $10, or so. As far as the mushrooms, we went with very strong-flavored mushrooms, as the standard supermarket kind wouldn’t have enough flavor to stand up to the wild rice flavor. For the white rice, use any variety; we happened to have Basmati on hand (we buy it in 20-pound bags at an Asian/Ethnic market). For the blueberries, we used fresh and we don’t think this would work well with frozen — too soggy. Besides, it’s the season for fresh blueberries, so take advantage of food when it’s at the peak of flavor.
Procedure in detail:
Rehydrate and soak. First up, we need to get those mushrooms rehydrated. We just place them in a 1-cup Pyrex measuring cup and pour boiling water over them. Use a small bowl, or whatever is convenient. If you’ve ever cooked wild rice, you know it can take a while. A long while. So, we thought that, since we were rehydrating the mushrooms, let’s soak the rice to soften it up a bit. So it, too, went into a (larger) measuring cup and we poured boiling water over it. Let these sit at least an hour; we went out and ran errands for most of the afternoon, so our wild rice soaked for several hours.
Drain and drain. Okay, the mushrooms and rice have sat in the water for a while; it’s time to get them out. Drain the mushrooms, but make sure to keep the liquid. That mushroom broth has a lot of flavor that we don’t want to go to waste. Once drained, rinse the mushrooms in several changes of water to remove any grit. Now, the rice: we just poured off the liquid as best we could and let it go right down the drain. Sure, it has a lot of flavor, but we think that it would have too much flavor and just overwhelm everything else. Finally, chop the mushrooms into small pieces, and discard the stem from the shitake — it’s really tough.
Saute onions and peppers. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in the onions and peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes or so.
Add wild rice. The onions and peppers are soft, so add the wild rice and about 2 cups water, stir, and bring to a boil. With wild rice, we’ll be cooking it a long time, even after soaking, so that amount of water might not be quite enough and you might have to add more later.
Add mushrooms and simmer. Toss the mushrooms into the pilaf, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let the rice cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If needed, add more water when you stir. After 45 minutes, the wild rice should be getting tender and splitting open.
Add rice. Once the wild rice is fairly tender, stir in the white rice and add about a cup of water, if needed. Partly this is a judgement call, but realize that white rice needs twice as much water as rice to cook, so, if there’s a lot of liquid already in the pan, use less water. If the pan is almost dry, a cup should be just about right.
Steam rice. Cover the skillet and let the rice steam for about 20 minutes. Yes, you can look once or twice and add a bit of water if needed, but try to keep that lid on, since rice cooks in the steam.
Add pecans and blueberries. Remove the pilaf from the heat and stir in the blueberries and pecans. Taste and season with salt, then let stand for 5 minutes so the blueberries and pecans are heated by the residual heat in the rice. The rice should also absorb any remaining liquids and get a bit fluffy (well, not the wild rice, but the Basmati should).
Serve. Top with a few extra pecans and blueberries if desired.
This is a nice side, but it’s substantial enough to stand in as a main along with other sides, which is what we did, since we had some okra that we just had to fry. As we ate the pilaf, it was quite interesting to taste how the flavors of the blueberries had shifted. We normally think of blueberries along with sweets: blueberry muffins, pies, cobblers, etc., or mildly savory dishes such as pancakes or waffles. But here, paired with a full-up savory dish — you really can’t get much more savory that wild rice — the blueberries really didn’t seem sweet; instead they seemed to provide a moister, milder counterpoint to the strong wild rice flavor. Quite the surprise and a good surprise at that. During the remainder of blueberry season, we’re going to be trying to think of other savory ways to use those berries. You should, too. Four stars.