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On the wild side: Rice dish can add variety to your holiday table

Autumn Rice on the Wild Side begins on the stove and finishes in the oven. Photo by Sue Doeden

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Families gather. And as they surround the dining table they celebrate and give thanks for all blessings, including the bountiful meal before them.

When my mom was living, she prepared most of the Thanksgiving meal herself. Trying to please everyone, she'd make baseball-sized dumplings and sauerkraut for my German dad, lump-free mashed potatoes for the grandchildren, sweet potatoes with a crunchy topping of melted marshmallows for her daughter-in-law, stuffing for her son-in-law, and lentils for herself and me. And, of course, there was always a huge turkey. I am not kidding when I say there was hardly room on the table for our dinner plates.

Not to be forgotten was the wild rice. It seems my mom could never come up with a recipe that lived up to her expectations. Too dry, too mushy, not enough flavor, too much sage or thyme ... just never quite right.

So, each year there would be a different wild rice dish on the Thanksgiving dinner table. This year, I think I may have come up with a solution to that search for the perfect wild rice dish. Not only is the flavor delectable, the side dish can take care of a couple birds with one stone.

The nutty flavor of wild rice pairs well with squash and sweet potatoes, so why not cook them all together? If you're feeling as if you're ready for a new twist to your Thanksgiving meal, Autumn Rice on the Wild Side could eliminate the big dish of sweet potatoes and the baked squash that may traditionally appear on the table.

This one-pot dish begins on the stove and finishes in the oven. Melt some butter, then stir in some wild rice, onions and garlic to cook a bit. Add some honey, orange juice and broth along with cubes of sweet potato and squash and some seasoning, bring it to a boil and then into the oven it goes. You'll be amazed at how perfectly the rice cooks.

I'll be preparing Autumn Rice on the Wild Side all winter long. It's not just for turkey. It's a wonderful accompaniment to pork and chicken. With the significant protein content of wild rice, this side dish can become a meatless entrée just by adding beans. Rinse and drain a can or two of pinto or black beans and add them to the pot along with the cranberries. It will result in a very satisfying main dish.

Leftover Autumn Rice on the Wild Side can be reheated in the microwave oven. If you have some broth in your pantry and some Autumn Rice on the Wild Side in your refrigerator, mix them together to make a hearty soup.

It's versatile, it's not difficult to prepare, it's nutritious, it's delicious ... lots to be thankful for.

Autumn Rice on the Wild Side

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup uncooked wild rice

1 cup finely chopped onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup honey

1-1/2 cups orange juice

1-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups diced sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)

2 cups diced butternut squash (about 1 pound)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries

1/2 cup toasted pecans

Melt butter in a heavy 4-quart Dutch oven. When butter is melted and hot, add wild rice and onions. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. While rice and onions are cooking, bring orange juice and broth to a boil. You can do this in a 4-cup glass measure in the microwave oven or in a saucepot on the stove. Add garlic to wild rice mixture and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in honey and blend well. Add hot liquid mixture to pot along with salt, coriander, cardamom and nutmeg. Stir in the sweet potatoes and squash. Bake, covered, in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover and stir in chopped fresh cranberries. Replace cover and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until rice and squash are tender and almost all of the liquid has cooked away. Sprinkle with toasted pecans and serve. Makes 8 side servings.

Tips from the cook

--Some grocery stores and natural food stores offer spices in their bulk food department. It allows shoppers to buy spices such as coriander and cardamom, which may be used only occasionally, in small quantities rather than having to buy a whole jar. Purchasing spices in small quantities ensures fresh flavor.

--Toast pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. I toast a pound of pecan halves at a time. Once they are cool, I store them in a sealed jar in my pantry. I use them regularly. Used only occasionally, pecans should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve freshness.