Black Rice Salad with Asparagus and Avocado

Black rice is a dramatically colored, medium-grained rice from Northern China.  It is sometimes referred to as “forbidden rice” as it was consumed exclusively by the emperors and forbidden to the general population.  The color takes on a more purplish hue when it is cooked and the nutty, sweet flavor is similar to brown rice.  I love rice in all its forms and when I came across this salad in the latest edition of Fine Cooking magazine, I had to give it a try.  The combination of color, flavor, and texture make this salad a real winner.  I swapped out the sugar snap peas in the original recipe for asparagus and I’m very pleased with the results.  This is a recipe to keep in mind when you need a unique and tasty side dish.

Black Rice Salad with Asparagus and Avocado
(yields 6 cups, to serve 4 to 6)
10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Chinese black rice*
3 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 fresh cayenne or serrano chile with seeds, minced
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
kosher salt
1 1/2 cups of 1/4 inch pieces asparagus (or 1 cup sugar snap peas, in 1/2 inch diagonal slices)
2 small firm-ripe avocados, one cut into 1/2 inch dice, one thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 to 2 limes, cut into wedges for garnish

Put the rice in a bowl and fill with cold water.  Swish the rice with your fingers to release excess starch, then pour off the water.  Repeat 2 or 3 more times, then drain the rice and transfer to a 3-quart saucepan.  Add 2 3/4 cups water, set over high heat, and bring to a boil.  Cover, lower the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender, but intact, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let stand, uncovered, until cooled to room temperature.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the chile and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.  If using asparagus, steam the pieces very briefly; just until bright green but still crunchy.  Drain and rinse with cold water, drain well again and set aside.  Combine the lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.  Wet a large wooden spoon with water and use it to turn the rice gently to loosen it.  Transfer to the bowl with the dressing, add the shallot mixture, and gently toss to combine.  Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour to let the flavors blend.  Stir in the asparagus (or sugar snap peas), diced avocado, and half the mint; season to taste with salt.  Transfer to a shallow serving dish and garnish with the sliced avocado and the remaining mint.  Serve at room temperature with the lime wedges on the side.
(minimally adapted from “Fine Cooking” vol.122)
* sources for Chinese black rice include Lotus Foods


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