Giant wild rice with sautéed mushrooms is not just another vegetarian rice dish – because wild rice, manoomin, is not rice.
Rice but not rice
Of course, wild rice is not rice. It has nothing in common with rice apart from also being a plant. Wild rice is the seed of an aquatic grass, Zizania aquatica.
It originates from North America and, known as manoomin (so tempting to call it moomin), it was traditionally gathered and cooked by Native Americans. It grows in shallow muddy waters like reed, which it is a kind of.
You can still gather wild growing manoomin in some North American states but the harvesting is strictly regulated. In Texas, for instance, manoomin is almost extinct due to environmental causes.
Wild or cultivated?
But cultivation of wild (not so wild then) rice has been mastered in US and Canada, and it is also grown in Hungary and Australia.
It is very expensive, presumably because of its scarcity rather than the cost of cultivation: in the UK it costs £21 per kilo which, compared to £2 a kilo of basmati, makes it a treat rather than a staple.
But what a treat! I understand it is a bit of an acquired taste and not to everyone’s liking. Cooked wild rice is very chewy, grassy and earthy, and feels a little like those long shoots of grass we used to chew as kids. No wonder – it’s technically one of those.
Don’t mix it with ordinary rice
I have only properly tasted it recently for the first time, having previously only had it in one of those wild, brown or red and basmati rice mixes.
That’s a complete misunderstanding: wild rice needs about an hour to be cooked properly by which time even the brown rice will have turned to mush.
So those packets are really a mix of ordinary rice with weird tough bits. Not the way to treat manoomin, which literally means ‘good berry’.
But since I started cooking wild rice properly and on its own, I’ve been blown away.
It hardly needs any additions it’s so full of flavour. Immensely filling, it’s at the same time very good for the digestive system and a nutrition star: fibre and protein, more of both than in even wholegrain rice, plus antioxidants.
How to cook wild rice
It doesn’t need soaking but it will benefit from rinsing, just make sure you don’t lose any of those pricey grains in the sink!
A pot full of boiling water without salt – at the early stage of cooking salt would make the rice go tough – there’s no need to measure out ratios, just cook it like pasta.
Add the wild rice and simmer for about 50 minutes. When ready, grains will have swollen and split, but I’d advise to try a grain for tenderness before draining the lot.
You can return it to the pan and let it sit to steam for a few minutes after draining, to fluff and soften it up.
What to add to wild rice?
You can use cooked wild rice in all sorts of salad, for a fibre boost, but I think it makes a great main vegetarian course with only mushrooms added.
They complement it perfectly with the meaty texture, extra protein boost and earthy flavour.
I like to use king oyster mushrooms because they are firmer and more flavoursome than ordinary white caps, but you can use a mix or your favourite kind.
They can be sautéed just before the wild rice finishes cooking: with a few spring onions, lots of butter and finely chopped parsley.
When you’re ready, combine both wild rice and the mushroom mix in either of the cooking pans you've been using, and season with lots of salt and black pepper, to taste but remember the rice has cooked completely au naturel.
It sounds like not a lot but it is really such a complete meal, you won’t look for any side salads or bread. An occasional, because rather dear, treat, this has become my absolutely beloved vegetarian meal.
More rice recipes
Black rice risotto cooked Italian style, with poached pear quarters and gobbets of blue cheese, is the best way to enjoy the black or purple, ‘forbidden’ rice variety.
Mejadra is a simple lentil and brown rice dish and my recipe has a great fried onions shortcut tip. Levantine rice and lentils were the biblical Esau’s ‘bowl of stew’. Probably.
Persian baked rice with saffron and dill. Recipe for Persian rice (tahchin) with tahdig: burnt, crisp and crunchy layer of rice at the bottom. The easiest Persian rice recipe with perfect tahdig every time.
More vegetarian mushroom recipes
Lentil, mushroom, red pepper and spinach bake with crusty cheese topping, a vegetarian feast. Make sure you cook lentils from scratch: it's better in value and not a lot of effort.
Baked oyster mushrooms with garlic and blue cheese. It takes only 15 minutes to roast the oyster mushrooms and they are delicious with a blue cheese sauce.
My baked rice pilaf is a veggie dish, with three kinds of mushrooms just for variety and because there aren’t many things that can’t be improved with dried porcini flavour.