Wild Rice – Home Grown Goodness
by Hélène Tremblay-Boyko
Although I was raised in Northern Ontario, I did not truly embrace the goodness and benefits of wild rice until I moved to the farm here in Saskatchewan in the late 1980s. Since then, our family has completely converted to wild rice instead of imported white and brown rice. Wild rice, a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids, is an antioxidant-rich whole grain excellent for heart health. Besides its many benefits, buying locally grown organic wild rice is just one small act of resistance to the global agri-food system, and a significant step toward food sovereignty. Supporting our community growers and harvesters keeps our grocery dollars in the province, growing our neighbours’ initiatives.
Over the years, wild rice has become a staple in our family, and we have always managed to source this beautiful, black, long-grain rice directly from Saskatchewan producers. From Hudson Bay to Meadow Lake and north to La Ronge and beyond, it is easy to find small family businesses and larger local cooperatives managing and harvesting naturally grown wild rice. What I didn’t know about wild rice is that it was introduced to northern Saskatchewan from Ontario in the 1930s, as a means of encouraging tourism. Apparently, wild rice attracts ducks which in turn attracts duck hunters. Since then, the Saskatchewan wild rice harvest has grown to be the largest source of naturally grown wild rice in Canada. Another thing I have recently learned is that there is a huge industry of cultivated wild rice grown in artificial rice paddies or fields. These crops are often hybridized, and grown with chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides. The quality of Saskatchewan’s naturally grown wild rice is substantially superior to its cultivated counterparts.
Many of our wild rice fields are managed and harvested by First Nations and Métis communities. Wild rice, or mânomin, has been harvested on Turtle Island since long before the first contact with Europeans. “Wild rice was particularly plentiful in a region Europeans called, “the wild rice bowl,” (what is now Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canadian land just north, in Ontario and Manitoba).”1 Since wild rice was first introduced to Pinehouse Lake, “people consider a wild rice stand to be their garden. Consequently, some Elders in Pinehouse use the Cree word “Kistigân” (garden) to refer to wild rice.”2
Harvesting wild rice is part of the traditional lifestyle of Cree and Métis people, just like hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering edible berries. Originally harvested manually from a canoe, the advent of air boats has multiplied the yields being harvested exponentially: 6 bags harvested in 8 hours by canoe compared to 6 similarly sized bags harvested in 15 minutes in an air boat. As wild rice is an annual, the process of harvesting by either canoe or air boat allows some seeds to fall back into the water for the next season’s growth. Wild rice seeds require shallow, slow moving, clear water, an overwintering temperature of around 0 degrees Celsius, along with several other conditions, to allow for germination and growth to maturity in approximately 100 days.
A gift from the bounty of Mother Earth, wild rice is a food which has undergone minimal processing therefore providing all the benefits nature has to offer without having been stripped of its goodness like white rice which is touted as reconstituted or enriched. White rice and wild rice are very distant cousins as they are both considered to be members of the grass family. However, they come from two distinct botanical groups: common white rice is known as Oryza sativa while the wild rice mainly grown in Saskatchewan is called Zizania palustris.
When I was a child, we generally ate reconstituted white rice. To obtain white rice, the agri-food industry mills the grain, removing the husk, bran, and germ, giving the grain its bright, shiny, white appearance. However, this also removes nutrients, which requires them to add B vitamins and iron. This is far from optimal nutrition. One of the main benefits of wild rice is its exceptional fibre content: 1.8g of fibre per 100g of wild rice, compared to 0.3g/100g of white rice. According to 2020 USDA and NIH data, “white rice has a macronutrient ratio of 8:91:2 and for wild rice, 15:82:3 for protein, carbohydrates, and fat from calories.”3 That is to say that wild rice is 15% protein, 82% carbohydrate, and 3% fat from 101 calories per 100g, compared to 8% protein, 91% carbohydrate, and 2% fat from 130 calories per 100g of white rice. White rice has 28% more calories while wild rice has 25% less carbohydrates and 68% more protein than equal amounts of enriched white rice.
As a young adult, I became more aware of the need to get nutrients from more natural sources and turned my sights to brown rice. As it does not undergo heavy milling, brown rice is substantially higher in many nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and folate. While brown rice and wild rice have many similar nutrients, such as magnesium, as well as comparable fibre, wild rice is higher in protein, zinc, and potassium as well as folate and other B vitamins. These characteristics make it great for heart health. According to Lisa Nelson, RD, LN, at Health Central, “High blood pressure plays a prominent role in your risk for heart disease. To control high blood pressure, you need a diet rich in potassium and magnesium. To prevent heart disease, you must also maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which means a diet rich in dietary fibre.”4 Based on this information, including wild rice in your diet is a healthy alternative.
All of this makes the consumption of wild rice a no brainer for me at least. I hope you will try these recipes with this amazingly nutritious food grown right here at home!
My Go-To Wild Rice Meal Accompaniment is super easy
Place 1 cup wild rice and approximately 4 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer for 50-60 minutes. Add water if necessary.
The rice is done when the grains start popping open. Cook longer if you like it softer (my husband does). Cook less for a chewier, nuttier flavour.
Drain, then stir in a dollop of butter, salt to taste, and a generous sprinkling of turmeric (or spice of your choice).
You can dress it up by adding slivered almonds or pan-fried onions, sweet peppers, and/or mushrooms. The sky’s the limit! Use your imagination and go with your gut!
Cream of Mânomin (Wild Rice) Soup – Gloria Belcourt5
125 ml (1/2 cup) uncooked mânomin (or 2 cups cooked mânomin)
1 large onion diced
1/2 green pepper diced
2 ribs celery diced
10 large fresh mushrooms diced
125 ml (1/2 cup) butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) flour
2 litres (8 cups) hot chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste.
250 ml (1 cup) light cream (or half and half)
- Prepare mânomin following this basic recipe. Wash mânomin with cold water. Place rice and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 50–60 minutes (until kernels puff open to reveal their white interior). Drain well.
- Sauté the onion in butter. Add mushrooms, green pepper, and celery, and cook until tender.
- Sprinkle in the flour, stirring and cooking until the flour is mixed in, but do not let it begin to brown.
- Slowly add the chicken stock, stirring until all the flour/butter/vegetable mixture is blended well.
- Add the rice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Heat thoroughly but gently, stir in the cream, but do not boil.
Makes about 12 servings.
(From How to Cook Wild Rice by Northern Lights School Division, La Ronge, SK)
Mânomin (Wild Rice) Poultry Stuffing - Gloria Belcourt6
1/2 cup mânomin
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp sage
1 qt boiling water
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
sautéed in 2 tbsp fat
2 beaten egg yolks
Cook mânomin (40 minutes), drain and rinse. Add mushrooms and egg yolks and blend well. Stuffs a 2 lb bird.
(Provided by Lena McCallum, Pinehouse Lake)
Wild Rice, Kale, and Apple Salad by Jenni Lessard
Inspired by Nature Culinary Consulting7
Yield 6-8 servings
For the Salad:
1 1/2 cups wild rice, uncooked
6 cups water
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 large bunch kale
1 tbsp ginger root, minced
1/2 cup parsley (chopped)
1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1/2 cup apple, diced
1 tbsp lemon
For the Dressing:
1 medium apple, diced
2 cloves, garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste.
Step One: Bring wild rice and water to a boil in a large pot and reduce to a low simmer, covered, about 40 minutes. Drain any excess water, saving for another use.
Step Two: Wash kale and remove the leaves from the stem. Lay leaves on a clean tea towel and roll up to dry the leaves and tenderize them! Remove from towel and tear leaves into bite sized pieces.
Step Three: Combine apple, honey, and garlic cloves with 1 tbsp of the oil in a small oven-safe pan. Place in the oven at 375ºF for approximately 20 minutes, until garlic is nicely roasted, and apple is tender. Put in a blender along with the rest of the oil and the apple cider vinegar and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and some apple juice or water if too thick.
Step Four: Combine wild rice, kale, onion, apple, ginger root, parsley, cilantro, and lemon juice in a large bowl. This can be done a day or two ahead. Just before serving, add pistachios and dressing, tossing well to coat.
Wild Rice and Cocoa Skillet Cake Recipe by Jenni Lessard
Inspired by Nature Culinary Consulting8
For the Cake:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsweetened chocolate chips
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, chocolate chips, and baking powder.
In a blender or food processor, puree cooked wild rice and unsweetened apple sauce until smooth. Some bits of wild rice will still be visible. Add eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and oil, and pulse another few seconds to combine.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Spoon into a greased 10-inch skillet and bake at 350ºF for 30–35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
For the Candied, Puffed Wild Rice:
1/4 cup uncooked wild rice
1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Heat oil in a pan and add uncooked wild rice, stirring occasionally until all the rice is puffed. Transfer to a bowl and coat with cinnamon and sugar.
Serve cake warm with ice cream, or frozen yogurt, or chilled with whipped cream. Sprinkle with candied wild rice and strawberries!
1. Belcourt, Gloria – Mânomin (Cree) Ghínázë (Dëne) Wild Rice, Minahik Waskahigan School, Pinehouse Lake, SK, Canada. A unit in the series: Rekindling Traditions: Cross-Cultural Science and Technology Units. Series editor: Glen Aikenhead, University of Saskatchewan – p 3 https://education.usask.ca/ccstu/pdfs/wild%20rice.pdf
5. Belcourt, Gloria – p 31
6. Belcourt, Gloria – p 35
Hélène Tremblay-Boyko is a retired local farmer and avid gardener, passionate about food issues. She and her husband, Al Boyko, operated a certified organic, mixed farm for 35 years. Recently, the farm operations have been taken over by Stacey Wiebe and Dale Maier at White Owl Farm. Hélène continues to be involved in food sovereignty issues, especially seed saving from her home garden. See The Farmers’ Table display ad on page 9 of the 29.1 May/June issue of the WHOLifE Journal.