While I was busy getting prepared for the Black Morel Hootenanny, I got a surprise email from my new friend Jason at InHarvest, a Minnesota supplier of artisan grains and legumes. He asked if I would like to incorporate some of their products into the post-foray dinner, I told him I’d love to.
He sent me a catalog to check out, and see what might work with the menu. The first thing I noticed was that they carried the elusive purple barley that local food and still life photographer Tom and I had recently used for the cookbook project we’ve been working on. Purple barley isn’t the only thing they carry though, and I was excited to see a funky selection of other grains and lentils.
I’m drawn to the strange, the interesting, the unknown. InHarvest carries a number of products with dark colors: black barley, black beluga lentils, and traditional lake harvested wild rice from Minnesota. Since I’m not able to work with imported products, I made a mental note that they also supply the fabled black Italian rice from the Po River Valley.
I’d never used the black rice before, but I knew it would cook up just like arborio, or another risotto variety. Eventually I came up with a fun Idea: using all of the dark grains in a warm salady-pilaf, an earthy compliment to the steak and morel cream destined to be the crown jewel of the upcoming morel dinner.
Now a bunch of grains by themselves, however interesting, can end up tasting like a pile of bird seed if they’re all alone. Some sort of onion will always give some depth to things like that, and since we we’re in the thick of ramp season, they were a shoe in. Originally I used only ramps and grains for the salad, and it was just fine. To make a really stellar side though, I wanted to add another other spring vegetable, but I didn’t know what.
When I visited my friend’s farm outside of Menomonie Wisconsin last week, her mom took me to their garden to pick some herbs, I noticed right away in the garden was that they had scores of beautiful, tight fiddles poking up around the house. I knew right then what the other salad component should be. Fiddles have an awesome look and texture; they make a delicious conversation piece.
Originally the morel dinner was going to have some sort of potatoes as the starch element, since I knew there would be plenty of Midwest palates around, but this grain salad was way more fun. It might be tricky to source some of the different grains to recreate this exactly, but that’s not the point, just let it act as some inspiration. Instead of all of the grains, you might use just two, like wild rice and barley. Another great combo would be wild rice and millet, which would make a gluten free salad.
As far as the lentils, those aren’t written in stone either, Instead of the beluga lentils you could sub lentils du puy, or even regular green lentils, just keep an eye on them. Don’t be tempted to use red or yellow lentils though, they just turn to mush when cooked. Whatever you choose, this is a fun way to serve grains. It’s also a nice compliment to go with any sort of bird, I like to call that the “bird with birdseed” combo.
Black Grain Salad With Ramps And Fiddleheads
This is just a basic warm grain salad, that you could vary in endless ways. A great variation would be to remove the fiddles and add some dried fruit, and or toasted nuts. Served as-is alongside some meat, a mushroom sauce would be a great accompaniment.
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 1/3 cup each: black barley, wild rice (wood parched lake variety if available), black Italian rice.
- 1/2 cup black beluga lentils
- Kosher salt, as needed
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 8 large ramps, leaves removed and sliced into 1 in strips, bulbs roughly sliced.
- 2 ounces fresh fiddleheads, about 1.5 cups
- Champagne vinegar, to taste
- 2 tbsp virgin sunflower oil, or another flavorful oil, like walnut
- 2 tbsp flavorless oil like grapeseed or canola
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Rinse the grains and lentils and inspect for any debris. Put each of the grains and lentils into separate pots, cover with 3 times their volume of water, then season the water lightly with salt. Bring the grains and lentils to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook each of the grains until tender, but not mushy. Lake parched wild rice will cook the fastest, followed by the lentils, the black barley and the black rice take the longest to cook.
- When each of the grains are cooked, drain them of their liquid and cool on a cookie sheet.
- For the fiddleheads, bring a couple quarts of water to a boil, then season lightly to taste with salt. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the fiddleheads and cook for three minutes. Remove the fiddles and chill in an ice bath to preserve their color.
- To finish and serve the salad, heat the sunflower and grapeseed oil in a pan, then add the ramp bulbs. Cook until the bulbs are translucent, about two minutes, then add the grains, lentils and the chicken stock. Cook until the chicken stock is absorbed, and the grains are fluffy and moist. Toss in the fiddleheads, just to heat through, then add the ramp leaves, just to wilt. Season the salad to taste with the vinegar, (a tbsp or two should do) double check the seasoning for salt and pepper, then serve. The salad can be held warm for a long time in a covered pan, with the ramp leaves and fiddles added just before serving.