Comfort Food - Refreshed

October 31, 2012

A healthy eating specialist at WFM Columbus Circle and WFM Union Square in NYC, Kelly Dupuis believes in eating foods without labels (an ear of corn, a ripe tomato). As a proponent of plant-based diets, she eschews packaged substitutes offering a quick fix. For Kelly, it's all about cooking from scratch. In her weekly column, Comfort Food - Refreshed, Kelly doesn't just adapt her favorite comfort foods to her plant-strong lifestyle, she reimagines them in original recipes with a wink to the past.

This week: Amidst the vast, vogue world of whole grains and seeds, Kelly salutes an old standby: rice.

wild rice pilaf
Photo by Joseph De Leo; styled by Mariya Yufest

Kelly

So for all the talk about quinoa, barley, farro, and wheat berries in the world of whole grains, I still really like rice (which is technically a seed rather than a grain, by the way!). I know that it’s rather unhip of me to dig on rice. But what can I say? Sometimes I just want to sit down to a big bowl of rice and say, "Side dish? Done." Of course, there are nostalgic undertones to my love of rice. I’ve eaten it in many forms and contexts. One of my earliest memories is of good, old-fashioned white rice (which I now know is pretty low on nutritional content, having been stripped of the fibrous bran surrounding each seed).

White rice was the bed for some of the most delicious dishes I can remember my mom whipping up. White rice was the perfect bed for my mom’s chicken stir-fry, which was made with chicken breast, onions, carrots, mushrooms, water chestnuts (oh, their beautiful texture!) and peppers, bathed in teriyaki soy sauce, and then ladled over big, fluffy piles of white rice. White rice was divine under Chicken à la King (diced chicken simmered in cream sauce with pimentos and mushrooms). The rice soaked up every bit of that creamy goodness and almost turned it into a risotto-like dish. Then, of course, there was risotto itself! A true labor of love, I remember Mom making this dish just a couple times since it required standing over the rice for at least 20 minutes. And 20 minutes is a hot commodity when you’re attempting to feed and subdue five hungry souls. Risotto required ladling hot stock into the pot in careful intervals and constant stirring in order to release the starch from the rice, thus creating the enviously creamy aspect. (A huge handful of parmesan cheese toward the end and a few pads of butter brought the creaminess over the edge, of course.) Oh, and before I forget: I must mention those boxes of white rice from the Chinese place nearby. I can’t write this without a shout out to the cooks there! Thank you for perfectly cooking the rice every time.

My experience with rice doesn’t end there, of course. Rice pilaf, which I can honestly taste right now as it stands perfectly in my memory, made it's mark, as well. Rice pilaf is rice that has been simmered in a seasoned liquid (typically stock or broth). That’s the basics of it, though aromatics like garlic, onion, or shallot are also commonly added. The rice pilaf that started it all was the one out of the little box that came with a bright yellow seasoning packet. It was a rice-pasta blend, really. Short grain white rice and little stubs of orzo, which took me forever to figure out was pasta at all! Rice pilaf took no time to cook. It was the rice dish for entertaining and simple weeknight meals. It went well with Mediterranean-inspired beef kabobs and juicy roast chicken, and, in its humblest context, it was the brave little base of a casserole. Cream of mushroom soup, green beans, a couple cans of tuna and cooked rice pilaf were mixed and heaped into a cake pan, topped with bread crumbs, and baked till bubbly. Man, that was a fine casserole.

But back to rice! I suppose the point of all these sidebars is that rice brings up memories of all sorts of meals in all sorts of contexts. Sometimes, rice takes center stage. Sometimes, rice is just that quiet guest in the corner. Sometimes, rice is reinvented in the form of leftovers. But it’s always satisfying and it’s always easy. And it's perfect for entertaining a crowd on a budget.

When coming up with my recipe for Spiced Cranberry and Pear Wild Rice Pilaf, I considered the upcoming holidays, for sure. The tart and treasured treat that is the cranberry, a juicy pear, and a hearty wild rice blend combine with nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper for a dish that delivers a seasonally spiced kick. Make a double or triple batch to serve at your holiday table, or simply offer it up on a weeknight to give quinoa a well-deserved break.

Spiced Cranberry and Pear Wild Rice Pilaf

Serves 4

1 cup wild rice blend (or whatever kind of whole grain rice you prefer!)
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 pear, cored and finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries (fruit juice sweetened)
1/4 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped chives

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

In the NYC area? Stop by for cooking advice!

Do you need help with maintaining a healthy diet? Drop by WFM Columbus Circle or WFM Union Square to chat with me about this recipe and plant-strong cooking tips. I'll be preparing this pilaf on Friday, November 2, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. at our Union Square store.

If you're not in the area, send me a direct message or add your comments or questions below.

Like this post? See Kelly's topic from last week: Chocolate Macadamia Cherry Truffles (Raw).

Kelly Dupuis is a healthy eating specialist at WFM Columbus Circle and WFM Union Square who delights in transforming comfort classics into deliciously satisfying and fun plant-based dishes.

kelly dupuis

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