Finally! Spring is here! Once more, ’tis the season of colorful veggies. And fresh-cooked whole grains to complement those lovely vegetables. Millet, amaranth, quinoa, even steel-cut oats are great candidates for savory suppers. Or how about a member of the rice family? Brown, black, red, and purple are all as delicious as they are visually appealing. (Bonus tip: if you want to dye something black or dark purple, cook black or purple rice with some extra water, drain the rice when it’s cooked through, and use the reserved cooking water as a natural dye.)
For this batch of eggplant-infused “dirty”-style rice, I opted for my favorite whole grain: wild rice. In this case, true wild rice from Minnesota. Both cultivated wild rice and true wild rice are equally tasty, but I prefer the true wild rice for its earthy/smoky flavor and the fact that it cooks more quickly than cultivated wild rice — more like 35 minutes instead of the 50 minutes the latter requires. And if you let the grains soak in water overnight or for about six hours, you’ll cut the cooking time by two-thirds. That’s true for any whole grain. That means true wild rice is done in about 15 minutes; cultivated wild rice is ready in about 20.
If you do go hunting for true wild rice, look for the longest-grained rice you’ve ever seen. Cultivated wild rice is medium-grained and glossy brown/black, but true wild rice is at least twice as long and is tan with long dark streaks. (I think of it as “painted rice.”) You’re more likely to find true wild rice in stores that carry a wide variety of grains and imported goods. I usually scoot by Zingerman’s to pick up a bag whenever I’m in Ann Arbor. Be sure to store your wild rice — and any other whole grain! — in the fridge to extend its freshness. No point in letting any of those delicious grains go to waste!
Eggplant Sauté with Celery, Peppers & Wild Rice Serves 4 people for lunch or 2 for a hearty dinner. Feel free to add cooked chicken or lamb to the finished dish.
1/2 cup raw wild rice
1 small onion, chopped (or half of a standard-sized yellow onion)
4 celery ribs, chopped (I suggest opting for organic celery since celery is one of our top-sprayed crops)
1 small red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped
1 medium eggplant, ends removed but skin left on, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. thyme
Drizzle of tamari (be sure to use wheat-free tamari/soy sauce if you’re making a gluten-free dish)
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses (optional, but adds a subtle sweetness to contrast against the savory tamari)
Place wild rice in a pot and add 1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth. You can do this several hours ahead of making the dish so that the rice is pre-soaked and will cook in fewer than 15 minutes. Otherwise, simmer rice covered over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes for true wild rice and 50 for cultivated wild rice. (Pre-soaked cultivated wild rice will need about 20 minutes to cook.) When the rice has reached its desired tenderness, drain well. Note that since wild rice doesn’t absorb liquid as readily as non-wild rice does, you’ll almost certainly need to drain away the remaining water.
While rice cooks, heat a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat for a minute. Add onion, celery, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until onions are soft. Stir in eggplant and cover. Let cook undisturbed for 10 minutes more. Stir in remaining ingredients and recover. Cook for 5 minutes. Assuming that your eggplant was fresh, you’ll be well on your way to having gorgeously textured eggplant that nearly melts in your mouth.
Stir in cooked and drained wild and cook, still covered, for a final 5 minutes. Serve immediately, perhaps with a goat’s- or sheep’s-milk cheese to emphasize the Middle Eastern aspects of the dish. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. (Try topping with a poached egg when you reheat your leftovers.)