I was asked a few weeks ago how I come up with my recipes and it’s a question I find hard to answer because there are so many different ways! There are some recipes which just pop into my head like Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad and Broccoli, Lemon and Chilli Pasta. There are others, like Beef Bourguignon and Easy Peasy Prawn Paella, where I have decided what I want to make and then googled lots of recipes to get ideas, before coming up with my own version. There are a few which are happy accidents, such as Butternut Squash, Prosciutto and Walnut Pasta, but the vast majority are born from several influences – like this warm Christmas rice salad. It came about partly because I wanted to do something with wild rice, partly because I am in love with pomegranate seeds and pistachio nuts at the moment, partly because I had half a butternut squash left over from making Warm Butternut Squash, Harissa and Halloumi Salad and partly because I wanted to do something that felt Christmassy but that didn’t involve turkey, parsnips or sprouts. The result is this delicious warm rice salad that oozes joyous festiveness but which is also completely different from the usual Christmas fayre.
As I mentioned above, part of the reason this salad came about is because I wanted to use wild rice. I’ve been quite inspired recently by the likes of Jamie Oliver and his book on superfoods and blogs like Deliciously Ella, which promote eating more wholegrains as being healthier and more nutritionally dense than their white, processed counterparts and as a result I’m trying to include more wholegrains in our diet. Plus I just think wild rice looks so pretty and tastes amazing. I found a packet I like from Tesco, who stock a mix of Tesco Easy Cook Long Grain And Wild Rice. It’s already partly cooked, so it doesn’t take long to cook, tastes really great and looks so pretty in this salad.
To keep things simple (this blog is not called easy peasy for nothing!), I used ready-prepared pomegranate seeds and pre-shelled pistachio nuts. These are obviously a little more expensive than buying a whole pomegranate and shell-on pistachios but they do make this salad really quick and easy to put together. If you want to make your life even easier you could buy a pack of ready chopped butternut squash from the supermarket, which you can roast from frozen.
Another little trick is that I make the salad in the roasting tray, which helps to keep the salad warm and also minimises washing up. To simplify even further you can of course serve the salad straight out onto plates but I love the theatre of a big platter of this salad in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves.
I like to serve this salad warm, but it tastes just as great cold the next day and is a good one to make an extra quantity of for packed lunches (my husband had a few jealous colleagues when he took this in for his lunch). It would also be a lovely unusual dish to take to a Boxing Day or New Year’s Day buffet or pot luck affair. This would also make a great stuffing to fill aubergines, red peppers or a pumpkin.
This dish is vegetarian and gluten free and is really easy to adapt to make it vegan and dairy free by leaving out the feta, or you could swap the feta for half a tin of drained kidney beans. This recipe produces a generous amount for 2 people and is really easily multiplied. I would serve it with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to go with the bright flavours in this salad.
Warm Christmas Rice Salad with Butternut Squash and Pomegranate Seeds
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 500 g butternut squash roughly half a large butternut squash, chopped into 1cm cubes
- Salt and pepper
- 200 g mix of wild and long grain rice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or just regular olive oil if you don’t have extra virgin
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoons mint chopped
- 80 g pomegranate seeds
- 25 g pistachio kernels
- 100 g feta crumbled
Preheat your oven to 200C.
Drizzle a roasting tray with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Peel and deseed the butternut squash and chop into 1cm cubes. Put the butternut squash cubes into the roasting tray and turn in the oil. Make sure the butternut squash is spread out in 1 layer. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Put the butternut squash in the oven for about 20 minutes until soft.
Meanwhile cook the rice according to packet instructions and then drain the rice thoroughly.
When the squash and rice are ready, tip the rice into the squash tray. (Be sure the rice is thoroughly drained before you do this.) Squeeze the lemon juice into the tray and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons).
Add roughly half the chopped mint, pomegranate seeds, pistachio kernels and crumbled feta and mix everything together. Turn out onto a serving platter and scatter with the remaining mint, seeds, pistachios and feta.