I’ve spent many hours of my life contemplating the phenomenal success of certain foods, and the seeming failure of others to break through. You might think, ” well, oh, of course the winner is the most delicious, right?”It may in fact be a delicious food. But I fear that success is all in the branding. Image is everything. So for Whole Grains Month, let’s consider brown rice versus wild rice.
What Makes a Food a Hit?
Wherever you live, brown rice is considered health food. If a character in a movie orders brown rice, you immediately assume things about her character, don’t you? We all jump to the conclusion that the character is health obsessed, perhaps hippie-ish or hipster-ish, maybe even a tree-hugging vegetarian.
But what about other grains? Here in Minnesota, we have a precious, mythic, beloved whole grain in wild rice. It’s part of the indigenous people’s original diet, and the good stuff is still hand-harvested today. It’s truly delicious. It’s probably a little bit nutritionally superior to brown rice, and has the same protein content as the rock star grain, quinoa. It’s “healthy.”
But in Minnesota, wild rice is considered “gourmet.” It’s served in creamy soups, in steak houses, in high end restaurants, all places that wouldn’t put brown rice on the menu for love or money.
It’s all in the image we have of wild rice. Yes, it’s delicious and deserves the love, it’s not that I’m knocking it. It has the best backstory, as one of only two indigenous grains in North America, and is still harvested in the ancient way today. But because it has a different, more upscale image in the popular consciousness of Minnesotans (and many people outside the state, if they have had it at all) it isn’t thought of as the dreaded “healthy food.”
I suppose it’s because I’m a grain nerd that I ponder this. But we would all be better off if we started elevating whole grains to gourmet, sexy status and stopped thinking of them as hippie food that might not taste so good.
Taste Wild Rice and See Why We Love It
Because Wild rice is the original “healthy” grain that made the leap to gourmet, I’m showing it off here with a lush puree of rainbow carrots, topped with a beautiful roasted purple carrot and a tangle of frizzled fried sage. Of course I used locally grown, hand harvested, hand parched wild rice, because it’s the best.
If you live outside of the region, try ordering it direct from one of the Native reservations who ship. I’m fond of White Earth wild rice, when I order it for friends, because I admire environmentalist Winona La Duke. You might find out what all the fuss is about.
And just how much a classy image adds to the enjoyment of a whole grain. Maybe it will get you to stop stereotyping the brown rices of the world, and appreciate them for their inner beauty.
Happy Whole Grains Month!
Roasted Rainbow Carrot Sauce over Wild Rice with Frizzled Sage
- 1 1/4 pound rainbow carrots
- 1/2 medium white sweet potato
- 1/2 large onion
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup raw cashews soaked and rinsed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
- extra virgin olive oil
- coarse salt
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the carrots, leaving them whole, and place on a sheet pan. Cut the sweet potato and onion in 1 inch thick chunks and place on the pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 30 minutes. When the vegetables are tender, cool on a rack.
- Cook the wild rice and drain.
- In a small saute pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sage and cook, stirring, until the sage is crisped. Take off the heat and sprinkle with salt.
- Serve wild rice, topped with about half a cup of carrot puree, with a carrot on top and a sprinkling of sage, drizzling the flavorful oil over the top.