Summer Picnicking in the North Land with Wild Rice Salad
Every summer I vow to spend more time outside dining al fresco with my husband. Such accessible natural beauty, it’s the perfect backdrop for a mini-vacation escape. Memorable locales such as the beach at Minnesota Point, the mouth of the river at Gooseberry Falls where there is one lone picnic table overlooking the lake, or along the banks and rocks of the Sucker River near Two Harbors are a few of my favorite spots.
Picnics are a smart way to get a big bang for your entertainment buck. For two people, it can be a romantic date; add a few more dishes and friends, and it becomes a “come as you are” party on the fly complete with social distancing outside.
When we travel by car long distances on the summer holidays, I always include a picnic on the itinerary. We pick up our provisions at a local gourmet shop or deli before we head out and about lunchtime start scouting a stray picnic table or area along the roadside with a view. Always a natural photo opportunity, a picnic sets the tone for relaxation.
Picnic expert and owner of Northern Waters Smokehouse, Eric Goerdt, offers this advice on planning the menu. “Any ready to eat foods that you can just slice up like cheese and deli meats are fun because you can have a selection of different tastes.” Eric also suggests adding dried fruits and nuts to your menu because they tend to pair well with cheeses and are picnic-friendly because of their portability.
Our summers here in the Northland are so glorious yet fleeting, so make the best of it and get out there every minute you can. The shore or park with the natural flora is always the best table in the house.
Here are some practical guidelines for your next alfresco dining experience.
--A tarp or plastic sheet is a good thing to have to lay your blanket on in case the ground is damp.
--Pack pasta and potato salads in plastic bags to take up less space in a small cooler.
--Avoid mayonnaise for dressings in side dishes because of food safety issues; vinegar and oil-based dressings are safer.
--Keep all of your perishables below 40 degrees F at all times. Do not leave your picnic spread out more than two hours.
Ingredients used in this recipe
Wild Rice- I use local wild rice from Minnesota. I buy it from the coop so I know the origin.
Brown Rice- long grain works great or instant cooked
Barley- Pearled Barley is the best also instant or quick cooked works well
Fresh Broccoli- Cut florets small so they will be bite-sized
Carrots- Regular sized or baby can be used, cut into small enough pieces
Red or Yellow Peppers- Sweet bell peppers give it a crunchy sweet taste and texture
Pea Pods- Snow peas work too, you can cut them into smaller pieces if you prefer instead of halves
Baby Corn- canned variety adds a bit of unusual texture and color to the salad.
Water chestnuts- add crunch to the salad and can hold up well to the acid in the dressing
Fresh Cilantro- No Substitute for this one I am afraid
Boston Lettuce- makes brilliant cups but if your local grocer stocks iceberg, that will work too.
Unsalted Peanuts- rough chop for texture and protein source
Soy Sauce- Low sodium is best
Sesame Oil- Toasted Sesame oil only for this dish, please
Rice Vinegar- Seasoned with sugar and salt tastes the best in my opinion
Sweet Chili Sauce- Always makes everything taste better with that sweet and sour flavor
Fish Sauce- My Thai experts tell me the one with the 3 crabs on the label is the best
Pacific Rim Inspired Wild Rice Salad
This is my favorite picnic side dish recipe. Bold with flavor, it’s packed with vegetables and grains, and it’s dressed with a sweet and sour vinaigrette dressing.
This version is a flavorful departure, and the ingredients are an inspiration from my journeys to South East Asia. The recipe can easily be cut in half for a smaller crowd. Serve with grilled meats and a green salad for a delectable supper. Use fresh stir-fry vegetables pre-cut from the produce department if you are in a pinch for time.
Makes 12 one-cup servings
3 cups cooked wild rice ( ¾ cup raw)
3 cups cooked brown rice cooked (1 cup raw)
2 cups cooked barley (1/2 cup raw)
1 cup broccoli florets, cut into small buds
1 cup carrots, cut into small chunks
1 red or yellow pepper, julienned into 2-inch pieces
1 cup pea pods, cut in half
1 six-ounce can baby corn, drained and chopped
1 six-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro, divided
2 heads Boston lettuce separated into cups
1/2 chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup dressing (recipe follows)
Yields one cup
1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium)
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce (found in grocery store’s Asian section)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Cook wild rice, brown rice, and barley as directed on package. Let cool. Add vegetables and cilantro, mixing well.
Mix dressing ingredients and stir in. To serve, mound salad in lettuce cups and garnish with roughly chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts.