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Lake-Harvested Wild Rice, Cranberry & Kale Pilaf

An ultra-simple side that’s a great compliment to just about any protein dish!

Lake-Harvested Wild Rice Cranberry & Kale Pilaf
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The lake wild rice (Zizania palustris) grows naturally on the lakes and riverbeds in Minnesota on more acres than any other state in the country.  In Northern Minnesota its hand-harvested from canoes by the Ojibwe people in reservation waters. As you might guess, the wild rice grown there has been an important social and cultural component for the Native American tribes and rural Minnesota communities.

I was first introduced to Minnesota lake-harvested wild rice early on in my marriage when my brother-in-law, who was then living in Minnesota, gifted me a small bag of the edible grown grain.


Considered a gift from the Creator, lake wild rice grain has been a center of the Ojibwe diet and culture for centuries. According to legend, the Ojibwe followed a prophecy to find the place where the food grows on the water, which was around Lake Superior, particularly in Minnesota.

Reaped from the northern aquatic grass that bears a resemblance to the grain, the lake rice was “tamed” during the 1960s when scientists and businessmen made it into an industry.  As the story goes, these men began growing the rice in paddies and planting and harvesting it by machine. During the cultivation process of the paddy grown “wild rice,” they changed the rice by making it uniform in size and almost black in appearance.

The two look and taste completely different!

After cooking with both types of wild rice my preference is for the nutty, earthy grain of the natural lake hand-harvested and smoke parched wild rice. It’s an instant treat to include in your cooking. You’ll notice that the grain of the lake wild rice looks irregular and is light-brown in color.  The rice has a delicious natural nutty aroma even before it’s cooked, and the taste delivers a deliciously rich, nutty flavor and enjoyable texture. It cooks up quickly, usually in just 15 to 20 minutes, making it an easy addition for just about any meal.

In comparison, you’ll find that the mass-produced paddy rice is much darker than natural-grown lake wild rice. It takes considerably longer to cook, and I’ve found that the rice is not as fluffy after cooking. Many consumers describe the taste as rather bland.  I would agree. Cooking times vary depending on the heat it is cooked at, the moisture content of the rice, how it was parched, and your personal preference in chewiness. Another difference is that in most industry operations herbicides are commonly used in spraying rice paddies. On a positive note, if you’re on a tight budget, the paddy grown variety is a little easier on your pocketbook.

Most of my wild rice knowledge (about both grown types) was learned years after my first introduction to the grain, during a sales trip to northern Minnesota.

Being my first sales ride-along to the northern part of the state, I didn’t realize the distance between the small towns and businesses on our list of stops for the day. Despite the miles, the morning went by quickly. Mostly small talk about how to use the garnishes (the products I sold) in drinks and how to up-sell the distributor’s customers so we all could make money. Our day’s agenda was pretty much by the book, C-stores in the morning, liquor stores, bar-cafés and restaurants in the afternoon.

It was a little past the lunch-hour when my distribution manager suggested that we stop to grab a bite. We barely made it through the front door of the log cabin style bar-café when I spied a bag of wild rice on the counter that looked just like the kind I had been introduced to years before by my brother-in-law. Of course, I had to buy it. Little did I suspect that my purchase would spark a whole afternoon of wild rice conversation.

Through lunch and between our afternoon stops, I became the student, learning a great deal about Minnesota lake wild rice versus the Minnesota-grown mass-cultivated variety. The story and history of both are fascinating. From the legend and spirituality of it for the Ojibwe to the labor-intensive hulling and sorting of the natural grain (called winnowing), and wood parching to dry the lake rice leaving it moist, fast cooking, and deliciously flavorful.

I learned about how “cultivated” is considered a swear word on the reservation. How, as in other types of farming and harvesting, inclement weather can affect the crops. We talked about the wild lake rice being a source of income for the people on the reservation, surrounding communities, and how the cheaper paddy rice has dropped the price.

After that trip, I came away with a much greater appreciation for the hand-harvested lake wild rice that had been introduced to me years before. And, in years since, my learnings about it has even given me a greater appreciation for other types of food as well. It taught me to continually question how foods I prepare for my family are grown, how they’re harvested, and the production methods they go through before we eat them.

Among my favorite ingredients to pair with lake wild rice at our house is cranberries and kale.

Before I get to the recipe, let me just say that for years I overlooked kale as a vegetable to include in my family’s diet. For some odd reason, I had always thought of it as a strong-flavored vegetable without a lot of possibilities. Boy was I wrong!

A cabbage type vegetable that doesn’t grow a head, kale is low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol. It’s a great source of dietary fiber, protein, tons of vitamins and nutrients.  A super-healthy whole food member of the cruciferous vegetable family. I’ve learned to love it whether cooked or used fresh in salads and even smoothies.

The trick to eating the most flavorful kale is in learning how to choose it.


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Lake-Harvested Wild Rice Cranberry & Kale Pilaf

Lake-Harvested Wild Rice, Cranberry & Kale Pilaf

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Lake-Harvested Wild Rice Cranberry & Kale Pilaf

Lake-Harvested Wild Rice, Cranberry, & Kale Pilaf

Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Dinner, Lunch, Supper
Cuisine: Native American
Keyword: Cranberries, cranberry, kale, Onion, pilaf, Rice, Wild Rice
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Slide to Adjust Servings: 6
Calories: 231kcal
Author: Kymberley Pekrul | G-Free Deliciously
This ultra-simple side is a great compliment to just about any protein dish. From fish, chicken, pork or beef, I’ve found it to be a healthy and delicious blend of ingredients that’s popular at our table. The combination of the nutty wild rice with the sweetness of the cranberries and kale, dinner doesn’t get much better!
Print Recipe


  • 3/4 Cup Minnesota Lake-Harvested Wild Rice approximately 1-1/2 cups cooked
  • 1-1/2 Cups Water for cooking rice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon good quality Olive Oil
  • ¼ Cup Red Onion
  • ¼ Cup Dried Cranberries Rehydrated with 3 Tablespoons Apple Juice.
  • 2 Cups Kale chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Pepper
  • Candied Pecans to garnish the top for serving optional


  • In a small saucepan, bring the wild rice, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and cover to maintain a steady simmer. Cook until the rice is tender and the grain kernels pop open, approximately 15 to 20 minutes for lake harvested wild rice. *
  • Soften and rehydrate the cranberries in apple juice until ready to use.
  • Heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and the onions and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until softened and the onions are beginning to turn translucent.
  • Add the cranberries and the kale; sauté for about 5 minutes more.
  • Add the cooked and rinsed wild rice. Stir into the cranberry, onion and kale mixture. Salt and pepper to taste; sauté 5 to 6 minutes more.
  • Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve warm.


This recipe can be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving.
* 1 cup of uncooked wild rice will yield approximately 3 to 4 cups cooked rice. The recommended rice to water ratio is approximately 2 to 1 or I’ve found that instead of measuring I’ll simply cover the rice by about 1-inch of water before beginning to simmer. To shorten the cooking time, you can cover the rice with a generous amount of water and soak overnight. After the rice has cooked to desired doneness, rinse and cool completely before adding to the recipe.

(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)

Copyright © 2018 Kymberley Pekrul | G-Free Deliciously | gfreedeliciously.com

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Kymberley Pekrul


  • The activities I to do most are cooking, being creative with food, gardening, quilting, sewing, and writing!
  • In my life, I have traveled to 31 of the states in the USA where I’ve enjoyed the food, history, people and the local culture while visiting. Among the places, I’ve lived in Arizona, California, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
  • As a little girl I grew up living next door to my grandma and grandpa on a small lake in rural southern Michigan.
  • The first thing I learned to make was pancakes.
  • The craziest thing I ever made was mint-flavored green cupcakes when I was 13. My family didn’t like them 🙄  Learn more →
Mark and Kymberley Pekrul


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I’m Kymberley: former nonprofit director, now full-time blogger. My husband Mark, and I share our rural home in the heart of Central Wisconsin in an area known as “The Holyland.” We love visiting cool places across America, learning about the food, the people, culture, and the local history. Our favorite things are eating great food, dark chocolate, weekend coffee, lazy summer days, all sorts of music, and time with our grandchildren.  
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