Summertime Wild Rice Salad with Cherries, Basil and Pecans

Summer heat is here, but thankfully so is the food.  Fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets and my garden herbs are doing great.  We have someone special to our family that we are trying to, let’s say “expand her palette” for different foods.  She is fairly willing and came up with an interesting approach on how to find new dishes.  She picks an ingredient and then we figure out how to use it for a meal.  She picked pecans.  I excluded desserts from our search (no, we don’t have pie for dinner!) and mainly got salads.  She is not a big salad fan, but we persevered in our quest.

I saw a rice salad that supposed to be made with wild rice.  Looking at the pictures, there was no wild rice to be found and the woman said she was a nutritionist? Hmmmm.  It had some interesting ingredients but clearly needed more work.  We started bouncing ideas around.  How about, first of all, some wild rice?  And enough to truly include it in the name-YES.  Since we had recently had a rice dish, we decided to mix it with farro.  Good flavor, nice chew and similar cooking times.

Note: If your grains cook at different rates, just hold off the faster cooking one and add when the times match up.  Wild rice takes 45 minutes to cook, semi-pearled farro takes 30 minutes.  Start the wild rice and then add the farro after 15 minutes of slow boil time.  They both finish at the same time.

Now I admit that the grains in this do take a bit longer to cook that I normally like for one of my posts, but, if you start them going right away, you can still make this meal in less than a hour.  Once cooked,  cool them with a cold water rinse.  This removes any residual starches and makes it possible to put the salad together immediately.  It stores well in the frig and makes a great packed lunch.

We added the suggested fresh cherries and pecans, but we both agreed this needed more.  We decided to add some savory foods to this.  Slow sauteed onion to allow the sweetness to come through (hey-your already waiting on the grains and onions don’t require a lot of attention).  We also used fresh basil cut into ribbons (chiffonade), and some (smoked) chicken. A bit of feta cheese adds a creamy note. A good balsamic vinegar, a touch of lemon juice, and nice grind of black pepper to brighten the overall flavors.

The meal was a success.  And even though she didn’t care for the fresh cherries (never had them before), she still had two servings.  My sons loved it.  We will have this again soon.

You’ll need:

1 cup wild rice

1 cup farro, unpearled ( See note on how to handle cooking grains with different cooking times)

1/2 medium yellow onion, medium dice

1 1/2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and quartered

2/3 cup pecans, chopped (or broken into smaller pieces)

2 cups diced cooked chicken (optional-but makes the salad into a meal-so good!)

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)

1/2 cup (or more) crumbled feta cheese

2-3 Tbs balsamic vinegar (use a good one for this dish)

1-2 tsp lemon juice (if needed)

salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Prepare grains according to package instructions.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Drain.

While the grains are cooking….

In a small skillet, saute onion with olive oil as needed until soft and golden in color.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Pit and quarter the cherries (juice will stain clothing!).  Place in a bowl.  Add pecans.  We broke them into pieces while adding.  Stack the basil leaves and slice into thin ribbons.

In a large bowl, combine prepared grains, cooked chicken, onions, feta, cherries and pecans.  Stir well.  Add basil and balsamic vinegar.  Toss and taste to check seasonings.  Add salt and pepper as desired.  Add lemon juice if needed or additional vinegar and mix again.  Serve immediately.  Enjoy!

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