Summer settles over our south like a like the blankets of fog at Point Reyes, with the general consensus being that perhaps our maker placed too many blankets over us. It’s so hot you can’t read the thermometer because of sweat stinging in your eyes. It’s so hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. Or grandpa’s mule was plowing in the corn field when the corn started popping, and the mule thought it was snow and froze to death. Mercy, it’s hot. But mind you, it’s not all bad. The heat can be punctuated with trips to the beach, to the river or lake, or to the Smokies. The summer’s sultry night air is still heavily laden with boozy levels of the last of honeysuckle’s sweet perfume wafting through her moist darkness. And just because it’s hotter than a $2 pistol and appetites are diminished doesn’t mean we don’t eat well. Fresh flavors find places on our plates that emanate from our gardens, fields, and (in this recipe) forests that are seasonally interesting, with nuanced complexity and richness.
This light rice salad uses our southern earth’s bounty for hot day’s nourishment. Peas and maybe some cherry tomatoes from your garden, basil and mint from your neighbor’s flowerbed, sweet potatoes from Vardaman, Missimati from our rice paddies, Vidalias from Vidalia, pecans and walnuts from the riverbank, and kudzu from the ditchbank. Hold it…kudzu? That champion of weeds, that nuisance, that scourge of our southern landscapes. Well, it was brought here for animal forage and erosion control, and despite its invasive nature in our nature and thoughts, it still serves the purpose. Conveniently or not, it grows at accelerated rates into the hot summer months when the spinach has given it up and the greens haven’t yet started—treat it like greens. It is full of antioxidants, and high in protein to boot. Help do your part in keeping our ecosystems balanced and kudzu in check—eat it. Kudzu’s mellow peppery flavor melds nicely with the acidity, sweetness, chewiness, crunchiness, zestiness, and earthiness of this rice salad. And thankfully, it’s best when served at room temperature or chilled.
2½ cups ecogrown Missimati Bayou Bouquet Fragrant Brown Rice
4 cups chicken stock, or if vegan, vegetable stock or water
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, then chopped in ¼ inch pieces
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp garlic, minced
2 Vidalia or sweet onions, chopped
1 cup lady peas
1 tsp salt
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
Very large handful of fresh, lighter green kudzu leaves, stems removed. (note: there is a light pubescence on leaves backside that can be removed by quickly dipping in boiling water, or it is diminished during sautéing .) Chopped in small pieces.
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
¼ cup honey
2 bunches scallions (about 10), chopped
½ cup fresh mint, chopped in small pieces
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
3 cups black seedless grapes (or seedless muscadines, if you can source and are willing)
2 cups cherry tomatoes
¼ cup Hoover’s Sauce (Lee Hong Grocery, Louise, MS, or on the web)
1 lemon, sliced for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for sweet potatoes.
In large stockpot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil, add Missimati brown rice and swirl to coat kernels, add stock or water, bring to boil, cover with tight fitting lid, reduce to low boil, cook for 40 minutes or until degree of doneness attained, stir once, and set aside to cool.
In medium mixing bowl, blend diced sweet potatoes and 2 tbsp olive oil until uniformly coated. Add brown sugar and stir until potatoes are lightly coated. Coat large baking sheet with cooking spray, place sweet potatoes in single layer if possible, and bake for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked and edges browned. Remove to cool.
In small saucepan, cook lady peas in 2 cups salted water until peas cooked (about 10 minutes). Drain and set aside to cool.
In large fry pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil, add garlic and Vidalia onions, and sauté until onions translucent. Remove to platter. Heat 2 more tbsp olive oil and add chopped kudzu leaves, sautéing until slightly softened. Add lemon juice, honey, basil, mint, and scallions, sautéing until kudzu leaves softened.
Add remaining ¼ cup of olive oil to large stockpot of cooked rice, and blend well. Carefully place the onion and kudzu mixture into the rice. Add cooked lady peas, grapes, cherry tomatoes, pecans, walnuts, and sweet potatoes, and season with fresh ground black pepper. Uniformly pour the Hoovers Sauce over the top, then blend the contents of pot gently and thoroughly. Place the rice on large serving tray, garnish with lemon slices, and serve at room temperature or chill for serving later. Enjoy!