Rice salads are a summertime staple, perfect for picnics and al fresco dining. It just makes delicious sense. They are versatile, unfussy and can be served warm, room temp or chilled. Rice salads also are the perfect side dish that can be turned into a main meal just by adding some rotisserie chicken, tofu or fish.
But when the weather turns a little cooler, I want a version that manages to capture the benefits of the summer staple while managing to bring in the flavours of fall. This black rice autumn salad fits the bill perfectly.
My kids call this “Halloween salad” because of the orange and black colour scheme. Cubes of butternut squash are dusted with pumpkin pie spice for a hint of cold weather coziness, while grapefruit and orange segments add brightness and freshness. Hazelnuts add crunch, and a tangy cider vinegar dressing (with just a splash of soy sauce and warming ginger) make this simple salad surprisingly complex in flavour. To turn it into a light main dish, just add some steamed shrimp.
The star of the autumn salad is the black rice. Once a rare item to find, it now can often be found at most well-stocked supermarkets, often by the name forbidden rice. And it’s a great healthy choice. Black rice is higher in protein, iron and fiber than even brown rice. The texture is heartier, too, and it has a pleasant nutty flavour.
Note that black rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice, so plan ahead. But it keeps its texture very well, so you can make a batch in advance and keep it in the refrigerator for several days to use in salads and soups all week.
BLACK RICE AUTUMN SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
For the salad:1/2 pound peeled, seeded and cubed (1 inch) butternut squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked black rice, cooled
2 cups orange or grapefruit segments (or mixed)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
For the dressing:2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup orange or grapefruit juice (reserved from cutting the segments)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
Mound the squash on the prepared baking sheet, then drizzle with the oil, pumpkin pie spice, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Mix to coat evenly, then spread in an even layer. Roast until tender, but not falling apart, about 20 minutes, turning halfway through. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together the rice, citrus and mint. In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients except the shallot and hazelnuts. Once the vinaigrette is smooth, add in the shallots. Add the cooled butternut squash and dressing to the rice and mix to coat. Sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition information per serving: 200 calories; 80 calories from fat (40 per cent of total calories); 10 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 210 mg sodium; 28 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 3 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” http://www.melissadarabian.net