At last, life returns to the North Woods. Throughout northern Minnesota people gather surging maple syrup and the first carrots coaxed from the thawed soil, and combine them with the last of the supplies laid in for the winter, including wild rice, collected locally in the fall, and dried fruit. Taken together, all this makes for a rustic yet delicate dessert, a springtime favorite of the Ojibwa, a tribe more traditionally known as the Chippewa.
Of course, some of the ingredients, like milk, turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom, weren’t always part of the Ojibwa diet, and they were introduced only later. The Ojibwa have used nearly everything else, though, including the wild rice, for millennia. A note about wild rice – though it’s a distant cousin of the more familiar tropical variety, wild rice is a seed of the grasses growing in marshy areas and lakeshores in the North Woods. The grasses mature and produce grains in the late summer and early autumn, when the Ojibwa would gather them to help them through the harsh northern winters.
Having survived another season of snow, the Ojibwa sometimes had a few staples left. What better way to use them than to combine them with spring’s first exuberant offerings? There’s maple syrup, as mentioned, as well as carrots:
Been a while since we’ve seen one of these, at least fresh, with flowing greenery.
The carrots, specifically their juice, make up the “broth,” which also features milk simmered with fragrant spices, including cinnamon and cardamom. This sweetly warms the rice beneath, and enchants the maple-soaked fruit and hazelnuts. No wonder Saveur included the recipe in its Summer 2019 issue.
There may have been revisions to the Ojibwa original, inspirations from the broader world, but the preparation warms the stomach and the soul as it always has. A nice celebration of emerging from winter’s drear, and into the sunshine.
Wild Rice with Warm-Spiced Carrot Milk
- 2 medium carrots, finely grated
- 1 and 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, halved
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 cup dried currants (*1)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup wild rice
- 1 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Line a small bowl with three layers of cheesecloth, then grate the carrots into it. Tie with kitchen twine to form a bundle, and leave the bundle in the bowl.
Put the milk, cream, butter, sugar, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Place the pan over a medium-low flame and bring to a gentle simmer. Hold the carrot bundle over the pan and squeeze, expelling as much juice as possible. Drop the bag into the milk and add any carrot juice that had collected in the bowl. Simmer gently for eight minutes, occasionally pressing on the bag with a wooden spoon. Turn off the flame and let mixture steep for twenty minutes.
Strain milk through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Cover to keep warm until ready to use.
In a small bowl add the dried fruit, maple syrup, olive oil, lemon juice and one tablespoon of hot water. Toss to mix, then let stand until the fruit begins to plump, about twenty minutes.
Put the rice in a small pot and add two cups of water and one teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover the pot. Turn the heat to low and cook for twenty minutes.
Divide the rice among six shallow soup bowls, then pour on enough of the milk mixture to half-submerge the rice. Sprinkle each bowl with some of the fruit and hazelnuts and serve.
1 – Don’t particularly care for currants, as they’re rather reminiscent of raisins. Instead, dried cranberries are an excellent replacement, and they match the dish’s native North American theme.