Finally. The Cherry Blossoms are almost at peak bloom! My mom, my roommate and I rushed down to the Tidal Basin yesterday evening to get a glimpse and snap a few photos. We brought a picnic dinner with us and enjoyed the view from underneath the outstretching branches of a cherry tree.
Earlier in the day, I had a tough time deciding what to prepare. I wanted to avoid conventional picnic foods such as fried chicken, cole slaw and potato salad. Not to say there is anything wrong with these foods (I’m Southern, so you know I love fried chicken!), but I wanted to try something different.
I scanned Mark Bittman’s excellent piece, 101 20 Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics, in the New York Times and found the perfect idea. Rice salad. Of course. They’re extremely versatile and pair wonderfully with lighter proteins such as chicken or fish. I crafted my own rice salad based partly on Mark Bittman’s ideas and from a similar recipe on the back of a bag of Lundberg Short Grain Brown Rice.
Right away, I knew I wanted broccoli rabe and Kalamata olives in my rice salad. I love the complex, bitter flavors that broccoli rabe and olives can lend to any dish. In this recipe, they are well-balanced by the sweetness of the bell pepper and acidity of the lemon vinaigrette. With whole grains, nuts and greens, this salad is healthy addition to any picnic (we ate every bit of it!). Feel free to get creative and substitute different ingredients into the recipe as well.
Oh, and for my fellow runners out there: this salad makes a great snack after an intense workout or long run. Enjoy with a glass of chocolate milk, of course.
Brown Rice Salad with Broccoli Rabe and Toasted Almonds
Yield: About 6 servings (Note: Not counting the rice, the below measurements are approximations. Feel free to use more or less of any ingredient!)
- 3 cups cooked short grain brown rice (I used Lundberg)
- 4 Tbsp. toasted slivered almonds
- 1 cup cooked broccoli rabe, sliced thin
- 1 large bell pepper, diced small
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
- Fresh mint, chiffonaded
- Salt and pepper
Simple Lemon Vinaigrette (Yield: about ½ cups)
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Prepare brown rice according to the instructions on the package, making sure to yield 3 cups cooked rice. Set aside and let cool completely.
- Lightly coat slivered almonds with olive oil and toast in oven at 350 degrees until light brown. Give the pan a good shake after a few minutes to make sure they toast evenly.
- Slice the stems off of the broccoli rabe, reserving the leaves. Take a handful of rabe leaves and roll them up on your cutting board. Slice thin and then rinse the leaves in a colander with water. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced rabe (it’s okay if it’s not completely dry) and sauté until the stems are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Place rabe on paper towels to drain excess liquid and let cool completely.
- Dice pepper into small cubes (They should not be much larger than the grains of cooked rice).
- Slice olives in half if they are small or quarters if they are larger.
- Pick mint leaves. Wash and dry with paper towels if necessary (sometimes they are clean).
- Lastly, make the vinaigrette by whisking olive oil into fresh lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Combine cooked rice, toasted almonds, diced pepper, olives and broccoli rabe in a bowl.
- Chiffonade the mint leaves, or roll them up and slice thin. Add enough mint to the rice mixture so that you can taste it.
- Add lemon vinaigrette a little at a time and toss until the rice is well coated, but not drenched (You might not need to use all of the vinaigrette). Season the salad with salt and pepper and enjoy cold or at room temperature.