Skip the standard side dish and spice up dinner with a fall-inspired pilaf from contributor Lisa Lotts.
How can you tell if a dish is seasonal? Is it the particular ingredient that you can only get at a particular time of year? Is it the spice blend used to evoke those hard-wired associations with a certain season? Or is it the ingredients that are emotionally linked with specific points on the calendar?
It’s all of the above in this wild rice pilaf with winter squash and pecans, starting with the butternut squash. As soon as October hits, butternut squash automatically becomes the default vegetable of choice in our house. It’s tender and mild without an overwhelming squash flavor, and when it’s roasted, it takes on an almost-sweet, caramelized flavor.
In this dish, the caramel notes are enhanced with a light maple-spiced glaze which reinforces the flavors of fall. The spices don’t overwhelm, but instead provide a back note that tugs at your memories of crisp air and fall leaves.
This pilaf uses wild rice, which isn’t actually rice at all — it’s an aquatic grain. Much of the wild rice found in stores today comes from Minnesota, where it is harvested from the famous lakes for which the state is known. Wild rice needs a longer cooking time than standard rice (sometimes close to an hour), but it’s a nutritional powerhouse that's rich in carbohydrates, protein and dietary fiber. Wild rice is also gluten-free, which makes this pilaf a great alternative to stuffing (or dressing) for holiday guests who are sensitive to cereal grains.
Dried cranberries and toasted Southern pecans add chew and crunch to this dish, but it’s the light maple dijon dressing that ties it all together. The result is a subtly complex dish with great textures and harmonious flavors. Take just one bite and you’ll agree.
Wild Rice Butternut and Pecan Pilaf
If you’re looking to jazz up your roast chicken or pork dinner with something more seasonal, this pilaf will do it. Serve warm or at room temperature. This dish can be doubled.
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup wild rice, cooked according to package instructions
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick oil spray.
To make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, maple syrup, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the pilaf: In a medium bowl, combine the butternut squash with the maple syrup, olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, and toss to coat. Drain the squash from the excess liquid and transfer to the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, then toss with a spatula and return to the hot oven for an additional 15 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes of roasting, add the pecans to the baking sheet with the squash.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked wild rice, dried cranberries, parsley, squash and pecan mixture, and dressing. Toss to combine and serve warm or at room temperature.