This was my view last Saturday evening: the sun setting over a vineyard at the edge of the Niagara escarpment.
The kiddos had been tucked into bed after a long day of sunning and swimming; wine glasses were full; and looking at the smiles on our faces, you’d never guess that just an hour earlier there were 7 kids, 5 and under, tossing pizza into the pool.
This view belongs to a dear dear friend who, bless him, invites a group of us out each summer to let our kids run wild on his expansive property while he showers us with Italian hospitality: brick-oven pizza, wine pressed from home-grown grapes, homemade sausages, and smoked meat of every variety.
He puts us up for the night too, making sure that the moms and babes have plenty of room to spread out, even if it means that he ends up sleeping in his car (true story).
I wish such a friend on everyone.
There is never a shortage of food at these gatherings. In part because our friend seems to operate on a 6 meal a day schedule. (Pizza falls somewhere between lunch and dinner, always.) But also because no one on the receiving end of such gracious hospitality can possibly imagine arriving without a cooler full of food and booze.
Among the treats tucked into my cooler was this summery Wild Rice Salad with Cherries, Mint and Feta. It was inspired by a photo I saw on Instagram, which I recognize is a risky approach when cooking for a crowd (I’m a bit of a dare devil like that), but I had a good feeling about the combination of ingredients. When it comes to mash-ups of fresh summery fare (cherries, sweet peppers and mint in this case), it is hard (or harder at least) to go wrong.
It’s a bit of work, this recipe. Wild rice is far from a quick-cooking grain. And pitting and chopping 20 cherries ain’t for the faint of kitchen heart, either.
But this is one of those things you bring to someone’s cottage or summer barbecue party—when impressive is more important than easy.
If you can’t find wild rice (it is readily available in Canada, perhaps not elsewhere in the world), you could substitute bulgur wheat, farro, quinoa, or one of those brown and wild rice mixes. I love the firm bite and nutty flavour of wild rice, though in this case it truly is just a palette for the sweet cherries, crunchy peppers, fragrant mint, and briny feta.
This isn’t an obviously kid-friendly dish, but I managed to convince my kids to eat it by highlighting the cherries. “It’s sweet!” tends to be quite effective for dietary manipulation, in my experience.
- ¾ cup uncooked wild rice
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
- ½ tablespoon dijon mustard
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 large red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
- 1 very large bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped
- 20 large Bing or Rainier cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 150 grams (~ ⅓ pound) feta cheese
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Cook the wild rice according to package directions (it takes about an hour, so be sure to set aside the necessary time), then set it aside to cool completely.
- Whisk together the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and oil in a small bowl and set aside.
- Combine the cooled rice, green onions, chopped pepper, mint and chopped cherries in a large salad bowl. Toss with the dressing. Crumble the feta cheese overtop and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- If you have time, let the salad sit for a couple of hours before serving. Not completely necessary but it gives the flavours a bit of time to melt together.
- This salad is best served at room temperature. If you refrigerate it before serving, take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you serve it so that it can come to room temperature.