We put our CSA share pickup on hold when we’re away on trips, which means that, when we get back, we sometimes have to go almost a week without fresh vegetables. We know we could pick up some at the store, but we generally don’t, as we find it somewhat unexciting and often it’s not super fresh (we do buy fruit, mainly because we don’t get a lot of fruit through the CSA). That means we have to be more creative when it comes to meals, making dishes from staples around the house.
This dish came about exactly that way. We knew we had some wild rice in the cupboard, and we did pick up grapes at the store. In the past, we’ve had rice pilaf made with grapes, so we thought could we make something like that with wild rice. Thinking some more, we decided pecans would fit right in, but, after that, we were stumped. What to do with these three ingredients to make them into a complete dish, besides just tossing them all together?
We turned to Google and searched for wild rice with grapes and pecans, and found a recipe from Fine Cooking, but we didn’t like the idea of boiling the rice, frying the pecans, and roasting the grapes. There has to be an easier way. Fortunately for you fellow scratcher, we have an easier way, well, slightly easier, at least.
Wild rice is not rice. It’s seeds from a type of grass that grows along lake shores, and it can be pricey. If you’ve had it before and really like it, you can order it online, or, if you happen to be traveling to the upper mid-west, say, Minnesota, it’s for sale pretty much everywhere. We remember one year buying it at a gas station. Maple syrup is another thing that’s expensive, but, as with wild rice, there really isn’t a substitute, so buy 100% real maple syrup. Remember that the grades have nothing to do with flavor or quality; the grading is strictly about color. Often, grade B maple syrup (which is what we buy) has more flavor than grade A. Finally, prices for balsamic vinegar are all over the map and so’s the quality. We use the gold label brand from Trader Joe’s; it’s a pretty good balsamic at a reasonable price.
Procedure in detail:
Three things to do here: cook rice, make the maple pecans, and cook the grapes. After that, fold everything together in a bowl and serve. You should start the rice, and, while that’s cooking, you’ll have time to make the pecans and grapes.
Boil rice. Wild rice takes a long time to cook. Place it in a medium saucepan with 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let the rice cook for about 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s tender. If the rice is done before you’re through making the grapes and pecans, simply turn it off and let it stand in the hot water for up to 15 minutes. Once you’re ready to complete the dish, drain the rice in a colander.
Cook onions. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When melted and foamy, add the onions. Give them a little sprinkle of salt to start adding flavor, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Glaze pecans. Stir in the pecans until they’re coated with butter, then add the maple syrup. It’ll probably sizzle, which is perfect. Continue to cook until the syrup is reduced and/or absorbed, about 5 minutes. Once ready, immediately transfer to a medium bowl (one that’s large enough for all the ingredients). To make it easy, quickly wash out the skillet for cooking the grapes. The sticky syrup will harden and be more difficult to remove if you let it sit.
Reduce vinegar. Heat the vinegar in a small skillet over very low heat. How low? Pretty much as low as you can get it. You want the vinegar hot, but not simmering. It’ll reduce in volume, but not cook. Every few minutes, swirl around the vinegar to check its consistency. After about 10 minutes, it’ll be thick and syrupy.
Cook grapes. Add the grapes to the balsamic reduction and cook, still over very low heat, until the grapes are slightly wrinkled and soft, about 20 minutes. It’s okay if some burst, or even flatten out like raisins. If your rice isn’t done yet, simply remove the grapes from the heat.
Mix everything. Add the drained rice to the pecans and stir to incorporate. Fold in the grapes, and you’re pretty much done.
Taste and season. Give the rice a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately while warm.
We were surprised by how easy this is. You can ignore the rice while it simmers, then it’s just fry some onions, add pecans and maple syrup, cook a few minutes and set aside. After that, heat vinegar, add grapes, and stir everything together. Not only is it easy, but it’s good. Really good. It has a nice mix of flavors, the nuttiness of the rice and pecans, sweetness from the maple syrup that sticks to the nuts, and some sweet-sour from the balsamic reduction on the grapes. This is a dish you might find in a trendy restaurant, but you can easily make it at home. Five stars.