wild rice salad
Here is my very best Wild Rice Salad recipe made with oranges, dried cranberries, apricots and avocado. It is a delicious make-ahead side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah (or any celebration really!) It’s naturally vegan friendly (just see the notes below) and it goes well with pork, fish and roasted meats.
This recipe was originally inspired by the concept of the Nutted Wild Rice Salad in the Silver Palate cookbook. I shared it here on December 16th, 2014. I have updated the text, added a video and added new images today. This post contains affiliate links.
I always think of wild rice at this time of year. It is a special occasion kind of ingredient, because it is more expensive than other grains. But it is so healthy, and festive! I love that wild rice is a Native American “crop” and a traditional accompaniment to harvest celebrations. If you’ve never cooked wild rice at home, I just want to first explain why it is different from white and brown rice, how to cook it, and explain just why it is more expensive.
What is Wild Rice
- Wild rice is actually not the same type of plant as the brown rice and white rice we know, and it actually is the seeds of grasses native to North America.
- It has been wild harvested since before European settlers came to the US.
- While wild rice continues to be wild harvested, it has also been commercially produced since the 1950s.
Why Is Wild Rice Expensive?
Wild rice is grown in the shallow waters of streams, and Native American harvesting methods included threshing the grasses into their canoes. A very labor intensive way to gather the seeds. Today this is a much more mechanized process, but it is still expensive to produce, and explains the high price tag at the market.
How To Buy Wild Rice
Look for wild rice in the rice section of the supermarket. It is available in bags and boxes. You’ll be surprised how small the packages will seem compared to white and rice bags and boxes.
I recommend buying wild rice in bulk so that you only buy the amount you need for a given recipe. While it will store well in a cool dry pantry, because it is unrefined, the natural oils in it can go rancid over time, so plan to use it within a year. I like to store wild rice in a large dry wide mouth jar.
Lundberg Farms (my favorite brand of rice) now sells quick cooking wild rice. If you find that, make sure you follow the cooking instructions on the packaging, as it cooks much faster.
How to Make Wild Rice Salad
My wild rice salad recipe is made in stages. First you cook the wild rice and make the dressing. Once the rice is tender, drain it and toss it with the dressing and let it cool. Last stir in the fruits, herbs and nuts before serving. Here are some more details about how to cook the rice, about the dressing and how to make the wild rice salad in advance.
How To Cook Wild Rice
Wild rice has a firm chewy outer shell that needs to soften with gentle simmering. Unlike brown or wild rice which is cooked with a specific ratio of water to rice, covered and cooked until the water is absorbed, wild rice is different. I like to think of cooking it in a similar way to the way I would cook pasta.
- Start by putting the wild rice in a medium or large saucepan and covering the wild rice with plenty of cold tap water. Set that over high heat and bring it up to a simmer.
- Once it starts to simmer, turn the heat down so that it just simmers gently.
- You do not need to cover the pot, and doing so may cause the liquid to bubble up and spill over. Instead let it simmer uncovered and keep an occasional eye on it.
- Make sure the liquid doesn’t evaporate away. If the liquid level comes down to or below the rice level, add more liquid and bring it back to a simmer.
How Long To Cook Wild Rice
- Most varieties of wild rice take about 45 to 50 minutes to cook.
- To know how long to cook yours, start with reading the package instructions. I know this seems silly but there are at least four different species of wild rice, so they vary in cooking times.
- After checking with the package instructions to get a guideline of cooking time, the best way to test if it is done is to look for the rice grains starting to split. You’ll see that they no longer look shiny black, but they will have a little line of tan running along the length of the grain. As they soften more and more they will start to bend. Be careful not to cook them so much that they curl up. The texture will no longer be pleasantly chewy, but will become watery and mushy.
- Once the rice is softened, and ready, you will notice that there is still lots of water in the pot and so you will have to drain it. I like to use a fine mesh sieve to drain it, because the grains can escape down the holes of a regular colander.
Wild Rice Salad Dressing
While you’re waiting for the wild rice to simmer and soften, you can make the dressing. This is a super innovative dressing with a secret ingredient! It has avocado in it which makes it creamy and adds healthy fats and extends the dressing a little bit further to keep the rice salad moist and well dressed.
This dressing has shallot in it. Many shallots have two lobes. For this dressing, you only need one lobe of the shallot. You can save the other lobe for these Maple Glazed Carrots! Of course you can also use a small shallot instead. Cut off the root end and remove the peel. Cut the shallot into quarters.
Use a Blender:
This dressing is made in a blender (I use my Vitamix) which helps to make it creamy. Blending it finely chops the shallot and it makes an emulsion of the fats and vinegar. In other words it won’t separate into oil on top and vinegar on the bottom. Don’t worry it’s super easy! Just throw all the ingredients in and blend it until it is smooth. No need to drizzle in the oil, the avocado and dijon will help it to emulsify in one step.
To Make Vegan:
If you are vegan or someone at the meal is vegan make sure to use agave instead of honey in the dressing. Or if you want, you could also use maple syrup which also has native American roots.
Stir the Dressing and Hot Cooked Rice Together
While the rice is still steaming hot, stir it with the dressing and let it cool. The rice will absorb the flavors of the dressing and will make the overall taste of the wild rice salad better. This is the same technique I use with my potato salad and pasta salad recipes and it makes a big difference. You can let the rice salad cool on the countertop, or if you need to leave it for longer than 45 minutes, just loosely cover it and pop it in the fridge. Note, do not seal hot rice closed in an airtight container and refrigerate. It will go bad. Leave it vented so that anaerobic microbes cannot grow and spoil it. (I learned this the hard way when I made a 10 gallon batch of rice soup at a restaurant where I cooked. Doh!)
Add the Oranges, Pecans, and Dried Fruits
Once the rice is cool, you can add in the toasted pecans, dried fruits and orange segments. Here are some tips about preparing these ingredients.
Oranges or Tangerines
This recipe calls for three oranges (or tangerines.) The first one is zested and juiced for the dressing. The remaining two are segmented. If you missed my recipe for Cranberry Sauce with Orange, then you’ll want to review my tips on how to segment an orange on Youtube here.
Pecans and other nuts are harvested in the fall and winter, and are common additions to holiday foods. I love the buttery and nutty taste of pecans in this wild rice salad. To bring out their natural flavors, toast them. My prefered way to do this is to use the toaster oven, just make sure to set an additional timer, because they’re very easy to burn!
Dried Cranberries and Apricots
Look for natural dried fruit that’s sweetened with juice and made without sulphur if you are sensitive. Unsulphured apricots taste better in my opinion, but they are not as pretty as those with sulphur, since they turn brown when they’re dried. I like to take my time to cut the apricots into little squares. They look like jewels in this salad!
This year I grew flat parsley in my garden, so that’s what kind I used today, but curly parsley would be great too. It’s quite a bit of parsley, almost like for tabbouleh, but it really adds a nice freshness to the salad and the green really makes the colors pop!
Add Avocado Last
The avocado will brown so it should be added last. It also gets kind of beat up as it’s tossed into the salad because it is so soft, so I like to stir everything else in first, then fold in the avocado at the end. That way the pieces of avocado are still distinct. If you make the salad ahead, once you make the dressing, you’ll have three quarters of the avocado that needs to go into the salad. To prevent it from browning, rub the cut surfaces with lemon, then put the remaining two halves of avocado cut side back together and wrap in plastic wrap. The cut surfaces will brown slightly, but it will taste fine.
What To Serve With Wild Rice Salad
As I said before, this recipe would be great with Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re thinking of serving it for Thanksgiving, make sure you check out my Thanksgiving Planner, which includes lots of other healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas and tips.
For Christmas or any other holiday or celebration, this Easy Pork Tenderloin and Apple Skillet with maple, mustard and shallots would be a starring main course with this wild rice salad. For a green side dish, I would make my favorite Spinach Salad with Bacon and Eggs or Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Blue Cheese.
My Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Fennel, Lemon and Rosemary would also be a delicious and savory celebration worthy star to serve with this rice salad. I’d pair this combo with roasted green beans with almonds and thyme.
Here is my very best Wild Rice Salad recipe, that’s made with dried cranberries and apricots, oranges, pecans and avocado. A perfect healthy, make-ahead side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah.
- 2 cups wild rice
- 3 oranges or tangerines, divided
- 1 avocado, cut in half and pit removed
- 1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons honey or agave
- 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 1 cup chopped toasted pecans
- ½ cup dried sweetened cranberries
- ½ cup chopped dried apricots
- Place rice in a large saucepan. Cover generously with water. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low or to maintain a simmer, and cook until the rice is just tender but not mushy, 45 to50 minutes.
- Zest and juice one orange. Segment the remaining two oranges, and set aside. Add the zest and juice to a blender. Scoop ¼ avocado into the blender. Add shallot, oil, vinegar, mustard, honey or agave and salt and puree until smooth. Pour into a large bowl.
- Stir the hot rice into the dressing and let cool to room temperature, 35 to 42 minutes.
- Stir in parsley, pecans, cranberries, apricots and the reserved orange segments.
- Dice the remaining avocado and gently stir into the salad.
Vegan Option: This recipe is vegan if you use agave instead of honey.
Wild rice is different from brown and white rice in that it is actually a wild grass. Look for it in the rice isle. Store it in a sealed container or jar at room temperature. To cook wild rice, simmer it in water until the grains split and are tender (taste a small bite to check.) Most varieties take about 45 minutes, but check packaging where applicable. Make sure the water doesn’t dip below the surface level so that the rice cooks evenly. Drain it as you would pasta through a fine mesh sieve.
To segment the two oranges or tangerines, follow the instructions here in my step-by-step video.
To Make In Advance: Prepare through step four up to 2 days in advance. Continue with step 5 just before serving.
- Serving Size: 2/3 cup
- Calories: 236
- Sugar: 9 g
- Sodium: 179 mg
- Fat: 13 g
- Saturated Fat: 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 27 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Protein: 2.6 g