Wild Rice Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette is loaded with roasted sweet potato, crisp apples, tart cranberries, and toasted pecans. This rice salad will become your most popular Thanksgiving side dish ~ it’s a feast for the all the senses!
*This post is in association with Roxbury Mountain Maple, a 2020 View from Great Island brand partner
This wild rice salad is a symphony of colors, textures, and flavors that I look forward to every fall. I always stock up on a few packages of wild rice right about the end of August so I won’t be disappointed when I get the urge to cook with this beautiful ingredient.
the colorful ingredients that make up a wild rice salad
This salad is a riot of color, sweet, savory, crunchy, chewy, and creamy ~ yikes!
- wild rice
- sweet potato ~ sub in any winter squash, or golden beets
- apple ~ you could use a firm pear or celery instead
- dried cranberries
- toasted pecans ~ sub in walnuts
- red onion
- green onion
- feta cheese
What exactly is wild rice?
- Wild rice is technically a seed of an aquatic grass, but not related to regular rice even though it looks and cooks like rice.
- It’s native to North America and grows in freshwater marshes and along streams and lakes.
- It has a distinctive chewy texture when cooked.
- The flavor is nutty and earthy.
- I love the way the deep purple/black color pops in so many dishes
- Wild rice is lower in carbs and calories, and higher in protein than brown rice
The secret to cooking wild rice
I never cook my wild rice nearly as long as the package suggests. When you cook wild rice until it’s absolutely tender, it sort of ‘explodes’ and frankly looks a little gnarly. It also loses some of its lovely chewy texture and deep color.
I like to shorten the cooking time quite a bit, and I taste to determine when the rice is just tender enough but still firm.
Maple roasted sweet potato adds another layer of seasonal flavor to this rice salad
I love to stock the complete Roxbury Mountain line of organic maple syrups in my pantry because I can customize a specific syrup to my recipe depending on what I’m cooking and the effect I’m going for.
Maple syrup is basically color coded: the darker the color, the more robust the flavor. In this case I went with a medium amber syrup which is sweet but not overpowering.
What do the different colors of maple syrup mean
When it comes to maple syrup, the old grading system is out, and color coding is in. Here’s a good explanation of the relationship of color to flavor in maple syrup, from the extension.unh.edu ~
Golden—delicate flavor and lightest color
This is the lightest color and is usually associated with the first sap flows during the sugaring season. It is golden in color and with a subtle maple flavor, often with hints of vanilla. The delicate flavor often surprises people who expect a strong maple flavor found in other grades.
Amber—rich flavor and light amber color
Amber is slightly darker than Golden with a light amber color. The rich flavor is “a full-bodied maple taste of medium intensity.” This is the typical grade for folks looking for a classic maple syrup taste.
Dark—robust flavor and dark amber color
The robust flavor is more pronounced than Amber syrup and the subtle flavors found in Golden and Amber are often masked by the maple flavor. Folks who desire a more intense maple flavor formerly associated with the old NH Grade A Dark choose this grade.
Very Dark—strong flavor and darkest color
This grade is the darkest of all the grades and has a very intense maple flavor. In recent years, the Very Dark and Dark are preferred grades because consumers like the strong flavors of maple associated with these grades. Very Dark syrup holds up well in cooking and the maple flavor transfers to the final product.
Why this salad is the perfect winter salad
- This is pretty and festive enough for the holidays, and it certainly goes with ham and turkey and all the trimmings.
- It showcases lots of seasonal ingredients like wild rice, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and maple syrup.
- You can make this the day ahead and stash it in the fridge for pressure free holiday menu planning.
- Because it keeps beautifully, the leftovers make wonderful lunches, which is the way I intend to polish off mine.
Maple cider vinaigrette
With a base of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, golden amber maple syrup provides the sweetness, with mustard helping to emulsify and provide a sharp tang. I like to add finely minced shallots, but that’s optional. You can simply whisk the dressing together, or use an immersion blender to emulsify it into a creamy consistency.
Winter salads that make perfect work-from-home, or on-the-go lunches ~
Wild Rice Salad
- 1 cup raw wild rice (or 2 1/2 cups cooked)
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into small dice
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- 1 Tbsp salted butter
- 1 small Granny Smith apple, cut into small dice
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
- 2-3 small green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400F
- Bring 3 cups salted water to a boil. Add the rice and stir. Bring back to the boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for 40 -60 minutes, or until the rice is tender. I prefer my wild rice chewy, so I cook for about 40 minutes. Drain and put in a salad bowl. Toss the warm rice with some of the dressing so that it can absorb the flavors.
- While the rice is cooking toss the sweet potato with the olive oil and maple syrup to coat well, and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Roast just until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Rearrange them once during cooking. Put them under the broiler at the end if you want more caramelization, but watch very carefully so they don't burn. Let them cool.
- Meanwhile melt the butter in a skillet and toast the pecans for a few minutes until they start to turn golden and fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool, then give them a rough chop. This will give the pecans so much more flavor than if you leave them raw.
- Add the slightly cooled sweet potatoes to the bowl with the rice, along with the pecans, apple, cranberries, and onions.
- Toss with just enough dressing to moisten but not soak the salad. (Save the extra dressing in case you need to add more later.) Chill the salad until ready to serve.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with feta cheese crumbles.
To make the dressing
- Whisk the ingredients together. Taste to adjust the seasonings or acidity level.