Wild Rice with ‘Wild’ Greens and Nettle Pesto *Super-Healthy*

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I once made the mistake of serving wild rice to my Iranian family-in-law. Now Iranians probably make the finest range of rice dishes in the world, but they are all based on cousins of basmati-type rice. Wild rice isn’t even a rice – it’s a type of water-loving grass and from the expression on the faces of the aforementioned in-laws, I may as well have been serving, well, grass, as in the sort you find in your back garden. This was a shame, as wild rice is a gourmet carb and a tad pricier than your average packet of Uncle Ben’s.

Extra-curricular wild rice activity: you can pop it like popcorn by heating it with a little oil in a sealed pan...

You could source the ‘wild’ greens used in this salad by foraging, but in this context any nutty and bitter mixture of herbs will do. And if you cannot find pert baby nettles to make the pesto, just use watercress (although it is somewhat satisfying telling people that they are eating stinging nettles). Because Salmagundi is all about fun, and no recipe should send you into an ingredient-related tizwas.

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Ingredients

  • 175 g/6 oz. scant 1 cup wild rice, washed
  • salt
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 12 radishes, finely sliced
  • 80 g/3 oz.wild greens, julienned (radish or beet tops, purslane, sorrel, spinach, fennel fronds, cress, rocket/arugula... the list is endless, so you choose)

For the Pesto

  • 80 g/3 oz (raw weight) nettle tops, blanched*
  • 50 g/ oz. generous cup pine nuts, toasted (or use the significantly cheaper sunflower seed kernels)
  • 2–3 garlic cloves
  • 30 g/1 oz/¼ cup grated Parmesan (or halloumi or just omit if cooking for vegans)
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • about 100 ml/ fl oz. scant ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Place the wild rice in a saucepan containing about 600ml/1 pint/2½ cups water. Bring to the boil, add salt**, cover and set to simmer for around 40 minutes, or until the rice puffs up and is soft when you bite it. Drain if necessary. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

Next, make the pesto. Using a food processor or knife/pestle and mortar, blend the nettles, pine nuts, garlic, cheese and sugar together, then trickle in the oil to make a pleasing green emulsion. Season to taste.

We’ll make this the way old Oscar of the Waldorf made his salads – it works well for thick dressings. Scrape the pesto into a salad bowl and toss in the rice, onion, radishes and greens, stirring well from the bottom up until everything is coated.

* Nettles

They’re everywhere. They are always especially dense when you’re wearing shorts and the dog dives off into the bushes. So it only seems fair to get your own back and cook the little devils, especially as they are super-nutritious (good for allergies, asthma and the kidneys). You should only use the tops of young nettles, and make sure you gather those that grow above the dog wee line and away from main roads. A pair of thick gloves is essential for harvesting them. To render them usable (sting-free), blanch them in boiling salted water for just a minute before draining and plunging them into iced water (to arrest the cooking process). Drain and use as required.

** Adding salt

If you want to preserve the life of your saucepans, always add salt to water after it has come to the boil, as at lower temperatures the salt merely serves to scour and erode the pan. When one’s mother works in the homeware department of a big store, one gets bombarded with useful stuff like this...