The beginning of winter is the perfect time to cook up a pot of this hearty and healthy wild rice — the side dish you didn’t know you were missing on Thanksgiving.
I find sage to be one of the most underused herbs, and I adore it. Fresh sage adds depth to poultry and fish, and sage cooked with onions and lots of fresh black pepper is so warming. Toasted pecans add a crunch, while dried cranberries add brightness. Sweet potatoes sweeten this dish naturally while adding lovely color. My recipe is a beautiful choice if you prefer whole-grain foods.
1½ cups of your favorite wild rice mix, precooked, using the instructions on the package
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 large sweet potatoes, about 2 cups peeled and cut into chunks after baking
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, chopped
½ cup toasted pecans
½ cup dried cranberries
1 rounded teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
Wash the sweet potatoes, poke a few holes in each one using a dinner fork and bake them at 350 F for about 45 minutes. Adjust the baking time according to the size of the potato. They should feel fork-tender but not soggy, so the cubes will keep their shape once mixed in with the cooked rice. If you like, you can bake the sweet potatoes a day in advance.
Rinse the rice before cooking it. Wild rice will still seep color into the white grains and can give a brown, rust or even a deep purple hue to the pot. Cook the rice according to the package instructions without any salt or oil. The best tip that I can give you about rice is that once you put the lid on the pot and turn the heat down to simmer, don’t touch it or stir it until the timer goes off. Don’t even lift the lid.
Once the cooking cycle is complete, remove the pot from heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, again not removing the lid. After 10 minutes, fluff the rice with a fork, and add the dried cranberries over the top before placing the lid on the pot again.
Place a heavy-bottomed pot or deep sauté pan over medium-low heat, and add the whole pecan halves. It usually takes about 5-8 minutes for the pecans to start to brown. You will smell the toasted aroma when it’s time to remove them from the pot. Set them aside to cool, and use a dry cloth to quickly wipe any residue from the pecans out of the pot.
Place the pot back over medium-low heat, and immediately add the olive oil and onions, stirring every few minutes until the onions start to brown on the edges. They should be cooked well but not caramelized so that they add a soft texture to the mix.
Once the onions are browning nicely, after about 15-20 minutes, add the salt, black pepper, fresh sage leaves and garlic. Stir constantly until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let rest.
Peel and cube the sweet potatoes, measuring about 2 cups.
Roughly hand-chop the pecans.
When you remove the lid from the rice, you will see that the cranberries are plumped up nicely. Mix the rice and cranberries into the onion mixture before adding in the sweet potatoes and nuts. Mix well and serve warm.
You can make the rice a day ahead, but don’t add the sweet potatoes until it’s time to warm the rice. If you decide to warm it, I would recommend covering it with foil.
Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, full of gratitude for our blessings.
Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.