This good-for-you wild rice salad with juicy cherries and crunchy hazelnuts is fresh and hearty and combines salty and sweet just right. Delicious as a vegetarian lunch or served as a side dish to grilled meat or salmon.
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If I had to choose one summer salad to serve for the rest of my life, this wild rice salad would be it. It’s colorful, fresh, and filled with textures. It combines salty and sweet just right. It’s hearty enough to be served as a light lunch, but it’s also the perfect side to grilled flank steak and salmon—and the leftover dressing makes a lovely sauce, too!). It’s elegant enough to serve to company, but quick enough to make on a weeknight. Simply put, you need to make it. Now.
You can use any whole-grain rice in this salad, and medium- to long-grain varieties work best. Wild rice, black rice and red rice varieties create striking salads, but long grain brown rice works too. You can also use a wild rice mix. Because the cooking times or whole grain rice varieties vary widely, always make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get perfectly cooked rice.
Plump cherries that feel soft to the touch are the juiciest and deliver the most aromatic flavor in this wild rice salad. This hearty salad is thus perfect for celebrating cherry season—from early June to late-August.
If you love cherries, you need a cherry pitter. Let’s all be honest here: pitting cherries, especially when you need a large quantity, can be a pain. I should know—I’ve probably halved and pitted thousands of cherries in my time! Pitting cherries is not hard to do, but a few years ago, I succumbed to the lure of a cherry pitter. The Oxo cherry pitter I own is worth every dollar I paid to get it. Like all Oxo gadgets, it’s sturdy, comfortable to use, efficient, and easy to clean. And at about $15, it’s pretty affordable too. To prepare cherries for this wild rice salad, you can simply pit the cherries, then slice them in half and toss them in.
If you don’t have a cherry pitter, here’s how to prepare the cherries for this wild rice salad: Run a very sharp knife all around the pit of a cherry. Twist both sides in the opposite direction to separate the cherry into two pieces. Carefully use the tip of the knife to pop the pit out. Repeat to prep all cherries.
If it’s not cherry season or if you can’t find ripe cherries where you are, no worries: you can still make this wild rice salad using other fruits: sliced strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and nectarines would all be delicious in here. All of these fruits are sweet so the dressing should also work as is, although you should of course give it a taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you’re using peaches or nectarines, pit and dice the fruit before adding it to the wild rice salad. For a smoother texture, you can peel the pieces of peaches and nectarines you use in the dressing.
Peeling hazelnuts is really easy! The key is to roast them first.
To roast and peel hazelnuts, spread them over a baking sheet and bake at 350°F (170°C) for 15 minutes, giving the tray a good shake every five minutes. When the skin of the hazelnuts is shiny and crackled, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a clean dish towel. Close the towel up into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts against one another vigorously to remove the skin. Open the towel and pick up the peeled hazelnuts. Some bits of skin will remain and that’s ok, simply make sure to discard all the loose papery bits. Keep the roasted hazelnuts in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
Some companies, such as Yupik in Canada and AZNUT in the US, sell unsalted roasted hazelnuts. These are more expensive, but a huge time saver. Nuts are expensive and using stale nuts in a salad or any other dish is such an awful waste! Make sure to buy roasted nuts from a store with a high turnover and from a company with a good reputation to make sure they are fresh.
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