I made this as a holiday side dish some time ago and fell in love with the beautiful colors and hearty but simple flavors. It’s so easy to put together using ingredients we almost always have on hand, that it now makes an appearance on our dinner table quite often. I’ve even gotten so lazy as to make it a main dish by pairing with a green salad and some hearty bread. Feel free to use any brown, wild, arborio, or blended rice mix for this dish, but please please don’t use white rice! So much of the flavor from this dish comes from the rustic taste and texture of the rice itself that using a good quality rice goes a long way toward success when making it..
2 cups whole grain rice or rice blend
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 T butter
1 c dried sweetened cranberries (raisins or currants can also be used)
1 whole sweet, red, or yellow onion, diced
optional garnishes: chopped walnuts, fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, chopped fresh thyme
I also tend to make this right after I’ve made up a fresh batch of stock or bone broth to maximize flavor, but a good quality store bought will work as well. If you want to make your can or carton of broth look and taste more like homemade, take some extra time to simmer the broth with the outer skins of a few onions and the leafy top of a bunch of celery. It won’t take very long and will add a rich dark color and a heady aroma. A splash of a dry white wine will also add extra flavor (don’t worry, the alcohol cooks out).
Feel free to use a rice cooker if you get consistently good results with it. Personally I’ve always preferred the stove top method. Whole grain rices have a much longer cooking time than white rice, so I follow a few extra steps to make sure it comes out perfectly. First, I always measure out and rinse my rice in a fine mesh sieve with cool water to shed excess starch. Then I add twice the amount of broth as rice, a tablespoon or two of butter and I let it soak for at least 15 minutes. If you have the time, you can even let the rice soak all day or overnight, until it sprouts. Sprouting your rice will allow more of the vitamins, enzymes and minerals to be more easily absorbed by your body and make it easier to digest.
After your rice has soaked, turn your burner on high and bring to a rolling boil. Immediately turn the heat down to low, cover the pot tightly and allow to sit on the warm burner for 35-40 minutes. After that time, give it a quick stir, noting the level of liquid absorption, and nibble a grain or two to check for doneness. Keep in mind that the rice will continue to absorb liquid as it cools, and our goal is a creamy, almost risotto like texture without all the work. Add the dried cranberries, stir, and recover to finish cooking. If the rice has absorbed all of the liquid but is not yet tender, add another 1/4-1/2 c water or broth and turn heat up slightly for the last 5-10 minutes.
While the rice finishes, chop your onion, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add just enough butter, oil or lard to coat the bottom of the pan–too much and you’ll just saute the onions instead of carmelizing them. When the pan is very hot, add the chopped onion all at once, and use a spatula or wooden spoon to distribute the pieces in a thin layer across the entire surface of the pan. Resist the urge to stir them. Once they’ve cooked for several minutes undisturbed and start to brown on the underside, slip the spatula underneath them in sections and flip, cooking for several minutes more. They should be a nice glossy brown and slightly sticky when carmelized. The onions and rice should finish cooking about the same time. Add the hot onions to the rice, give it all a quick stir, and your choice of garnishes when plating. Enjoy!