September 7, 2008

Heartnut and Wild Rice Salad and a Blogger Potluck

Ever unable to resist a new food, especially something local, I picked up two bags of heartnuts recently. Toted as "A delicious heart shaped walnut for every special occasion" they looked a lot like shag bark hickory nuts. That and the sketch of a hammer hitting a nut on the bag should have tipped me off to their impenetrability. I collected hickory nuts with my parents as a kid and we'd have to smash them between two bricks to get the darn things open. Unfortunately, I was too enthusiastic about bringing a new local ingredient to a Michigan foodblogger potluck I was attending this past Saturday. I had settled on making a wild rice salad.

My wild rice salad is inspired by the one they sell at Oryana, a co-op in Traverse City. I change the recipe to suit what's seasonal but always have nuts for richness and crunch. I had Romeo, Michigan peaches, sweet corn and onions from just down the street, mint from my garden and wild rice from Minnesota. I figured the heartnuts would be ideal to create a salad that was almost all Michigan-based, all Midwest at least. I got to cracking on Saturday morning while my rice simmered.

Now, no standard nut cracker is going to free these nuts. A hammer along with one of the granite counter top samples I just received was required. A concrete surface, flat stone or brick would have worked as well. It took a couple of well placed hits from the hammer right on the nut's seam to split them open. Inside the nut and cavity are a beautiful heart shape and the flavor is that of a mild walnut. Alas, very few of the nut meats come out as a intact heart but I can see how they wouldn't want to market them as "broken heart" nuts. More than half of the shells split perfectly and I'm saving them to see if I can't come up with a craft project for them. Perhaps everyone will get heartnut ornaments for Christmas?

Somehow, I managed to get through my two bags of nuts by the time my rice was finished cooking, only smashing my thumb twice. I can be a tad clumsy so that's not a bad record for me. The pound of nuts yielded a little over a cup of nut meats. I toasted them and tossed them into the salad. The blogger get together was a lot of fun. All of the food was excellent! Our host was Shayne from fruitcake or nuts. She and her husband had a grill set up with pizza fixings and her sauce was outstanding! The conversation was entertaining and I decided not to worry about taking pictures. You can visit the other blogger sites to see if any decent pictures came out. I'll have the attendee list at the end of the post. Here is my contribution:

Wild Rice Salad
I change the ingredients in this to suit what's seasonal. The basics are cooked wild rice with a nut, something sweet, something crunchy and a basic vinaigrette. I left out mustard for this peach version but see the end of the recipe for some of my other variations.
Makes ~6 cups

6oz (1 cup) uncooked wild rice (or 4 cups cooked)
2/3 cup nuts, toasted
1 cup sweet corn kernels (~1 cob)
1 peach, diced
1/3 cup diced red onion
4-5 tablespoons lemon juice (~1 1/2 lemons)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

-Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add in the dry rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer, covered loosely, for 45-55 minutes. Drain, then cover for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Allow to cool slightly.
-Add the red onion, 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, olive oil, mint and parsley to a large bowl with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a couple of grinds of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Stir together.
-Add the rice to the bowl and toss to coat.
-Fold in the nuts, corn and peaches and taste for seasoning. Add more lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper as desired.
-Serve cold or room temperature.

-My version of Oryana's salad: dried cherries, pecans, smoked baked tofu, no mint and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard.
-Halved red grapes, apples, and walnuts with all parsley, red wine vinegar and a 1 teaspoon of mustard added to the dressing.
-Caramelized onions, cubes of roasted winter squash, fennel, basil and mustard.

A bag of heartnutsHeartnuts in the shell
A nut seam side up, ready to crack
A perfect heartnut nutmeat, in the shell, cracked in the shell and empty shell
The best part, heartnut shells make great cat toys! A bonus shot of Abbie

The foodbloggers I met, by their blognames:

fruitcake or nuts
Una Bouna Forchetta
Could you hum a few bars?
The Hungry Masses
Diana Dyer, MS, RD
Four Obessions
Mother's Kitchen
Teacher in the Hood
All the Michigan foodblogs I've found. I'd love to know about more!

More about Heartnuts:
An image of a heartnut tree
Fennville, Michigan Heartnut Grower site (under construction)
Oikos Tree Crops* a Kalamazoo nursery that sells heartnut trees
*This post took so long to complete because I browsed at Oikos for over an hour. I'd like a Noah's ark special from them, two of everything please!