It's nice to have a few salad recipes that can serve as main dishes, and the rice in this one makes it especially filling. A big forkful of tender leaves with little piles of rice, sweet dates, and crunchy nuts made the perfect combination of flavors and textures.
This was a tough recipe to name. I thought about calling it my "wild rice, chickpea, date, cashew, celery, and mixed green salad," but decided that something simpler might be best! Needless to say, there's a lot going on in this salad — and it's all good.
To be fair — and I'm not sure how I feel about admitting this — I could have named it the "Top Chef-Inspired Salad," since the urge to add rice came from an old episode. But my version is nothing like the one on TV; it's much more hearty and complex.
I've had rice salads (no lettuce) that include fruit and nuts, which prompted me to add dates — a nice, meaty alternative to dried cranberries or raisins — and cashews, which are smooth, buttery, and blend well with the other ingredients. And as for the chickpeas, I just wanted more protein, and they fit in without taking over. There's also some chopped celery in there for a fresh crunch.
The dressing is a simple one, just a basic balsamic vinaigrette with some brown sugar. I like sweet dressings, and the brown sugar highlighted the dates. But you could certainly use a citrus vinaigrette. For other interpretations, play around with different combinations of nuts and fruit — or add bacon! For non-vegetarians, I think bacon would taste amazing in here. I used wild rice, but brown rice is a great alternative. And really, any type of whole grain would do.
I first made this in a family member's kitchen that lacked some basic measuring cups, so some of my original measurements were approximate. But this isn't a recipe that calls for exact science. Experiment!
As Elizabeth mentions, this salad does indeed have a lot going on, but somehow all the ingredients really work well together and balance each other out.
I'll admit I was a bit leery about the chopped dates. They can be so sweet. I was worried that their sweetness might take over the salad, overpowering the other ingredients. And I felt the same about the spoonful of brown sugar in the vinaigrette.
Turns out there was nothing at all to worry about. Yes, they are sweet, but not overly so. Combined with the nutty rice and cashews, and fresh veggies, they brought a really nice contrast to the salad.
For the salad:
1 cup wild rice
5 ounces mixed or baby greens (about 6 big handfuls), washed and dried 1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 dried dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup roasted cashews
2 large celery ribs, chopped
For the vinaigrette:
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Combine the wild rice with 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, until the rice is tender. Pour the rice into a strainer to drain off any remaining water, then cool the rice completely.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a large bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking, until the dressing is slightly thick and all the olive oil is incorporated.
To assemble the salad, add the greens to the bowl and toss to coat. Then add the chickpeas, dates, cashews, celery, and rice. Toss gently until all the ingredients are combined. Serve immediately.
This recipe has been updated — first published May 2008.