I do love a good rice salad... not entirely certain where my love for them comes from. If I'm not wrong, I think it was my Aunt Zahra's house on Boxing Day in the mid-80's and we were served a deliciously crispy roasted goose. I cannot recall all the other side dishes and accoutriment but I do remember a rice salad, studded with raisins in a kind of curried mayonnaisey dressing (similar to that of Coronoation chicken) I'd never had anything like it before and I was quite impressed. To this day, when I make a rice salad (of which there have been MANY) I always visualise that rice salad. Ahhhh, nostalgia is a funny thing.
My Mother has an annual ladies lunch at her work place and the tradition has become that I prepare an enormous salad of some sort and she and the ladies feast on it, along with other contributed dishes. Without boasting, I'm told my salads are always a hit and thank goodness for that as you never want to fall foul of a group of ladies! Especially not when it comes to food or cookery!
The recipe I have just finished making is a Persian-inspired rice salad and it is totally foolproof, therefore I really recommend it as a fab 'alternative' dish for your Christmas or Boxing Day table. Ingredients like Barberries, sour cherries, dill, pistachios and dates are all very Persian... but they are merely a guideline, you can add whatever you like.... Yes even that odd bag of pecan nuts stuffed in the back of your cupboard. Quantities are also vague and not so important; you simply put what you have at home into the salad.... it's that simple.
Persian-Inspired Winter Wild Rice Salad (party size quantity!)
500g of Camargue wild red rice
500g of Wild and long grain rice (mixed, from Sainsburys)
300g of peeled whole pistachios
200g of dried sour cherries
150g of flaked almonds
250g of chopped dates
600g of feta cheese
2 bunches of spring onions, thinly sliced
4 bulbs of fennel, halved and very thinly sliced
Grated zest and juice of 4 unwaxed oranges
2 bunches of dill, finely chopped
200ml of olive oil
125ml red wine vinegar
Maldon sea salt
**optional** 100g of Barberries (Sour Persian red berries, from Persian supermarkets)
**optional** Fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish
Cook your rice according to the instructions on the packet, then drain and wash the rice in cold water to allow the starch to drain away. In a large bowl (or several bowls if you need to) mix all the ingredients together, adding the dried fruits, nuts, spring onions, fennel, dill and mixing well using your hands. Then drizzle the entire amount of olive oil, vinegar, juice and zest of your oranges as well as your salt and incorporate all the dressing evenly, using your hands to ensure every grain of rice gets an even coating. Finally add the dill and mix the ingredients again until even. My best advice is to serve the dish the following day and only at the time of serving should you add the crumbled feta cheese and your optional fresh pomegranate seeds.
It's a simple recipe... But it's a crowd pleaser also. There are lots of different flavours, textures and colours in this dish and nothing overpowering or offensive so it's a win-win situation for all!