Standing on my front porch watching the chilly wind blowing through the naked trees, I am reminded that soon we will be gathering with friends and family to give thanks. Whether you are the host or a guest on Thanksgiving, the occasion calls for special dishes. In some circles the expectation of tradition stands strong and the holiday would not be right without “grandma’s sweet potatoes” or whatever your family holds dear. For me, I like to mix it up and use this occasion to try something new. It would be my preference to disregard all the standards and prepare something completely out of the box but my family protests and roast turkey, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy prevail. As a result, I always have to prepare at least one dish that is new and unique to satisfy my culinary desires. This year I developed the featured recipe combining “forbidden rice” with seasonal squash and pecans. I cannot wait to serve it and see the gangs reaction.
What exactly is forbidden rice? Fabled to enrich health and longevity, it is also known as black rice. Legend has it that this ancient grain, because of its high nutritional values, got its name because it was once eaten exclusively by the Emperors of China. The common man/woman were “forbidden” to eat it for fear there would not be enough for royalty. Its deep color is a striking presence on the plate and is now widely available and known as a wholesome everyday rice. Its nutty flavor pairs well with almost any cuisine and can be eaten– steamed plain, in pilaf, stir-fry, salad or pudding. A recent study showed that a spoonful of black rice bran or ten spoonfuls of the cooked rice contains the same amount of antioxidants as a helping of blueberries. In addition, this rice provides the richest nutritional value, providing a higher level of vitamins , minerals and fiber of any rice bran.
Here is how it went down in my kitchen.
FORBIDDEN RICE with ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH & PECANS Serves 6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (acorn squash could also be used)
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 3 c Forbidden rice (wild rice can be substituted), cooked ( I cooked mine in a rice cooker, 1c rice to 1 1/2 c liquid, either stock or water, but can be cooked on stovetop)
- 2 tablespoons butter (oil for Vegan) + 1T extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 large shallot, peeled and diced
- Zest of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and Pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Toss the peeled and diced squash in oil and spread over a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn and spread the squash again and roast another 10 minutes. In the last 5 minutes sprinkle the pecans over the squash so the pieces can toast. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, melt butter and oil in a large skillet. Cook the prosciutto until crisp, remove and drain on paper towel. Set aside.
- Add the shallot and cook until soft and translucent.
- Stir in the cooked rice and heat through.
- Gently fold in the squash and pecans. Heat through.
- Remove from heat and add the orange zest and thyme leaves. Mix and taste. Add salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind the saltiness of the prosciutto, if using.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with a crisp piece of prosciutto (optional).
Note: This can be made ahead (without the pecans and prosciutto), covered, refrigerated. When time to serve, warm in oven, covered, @ 350-375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through. Right before serving, stir in the pecans (roasted separately in a dry skillet, cooled and stored in an airtight container). Garnish with the crispy prosciutto, if using.
Besides being stunning on a plate, it is delicious on the palate — nutty, even a little fruity. Its somewhat chewy texture serves as a great contrast to the softness of the squash. I have bought this product at our local natural foods co-op and at Whole Foods, but if you can’t find it locally, it is available from several sources online. If you wish, you could substitute wild rice.
I enjoy Thanksgiving for its rich tradition of food, family, friends and gratitude. Taking a few minutes out of our busy lives to show our appreciation for the bounty we enjoy and those who share it with us, brings a smile of joy to my face. Regardless of what dishes grace your table, be it black rice or your family favorites, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Hopefully, my family will feel like royalty when they taste this creation. Until next time, what’s better than good nutrition and love on a platter? Jeanne