This gorgeous Wild Rice Salad is bursting with robust flavor and delicious textures! This recipe features tender delicata squash, tart pomegranate arils, creamy goat cheese, crunchy pistachios and a finger-licking-good honey balsamic vinaigrette!
This salad can be served warm, cold or at room temperature! It’s the perfect dish for the holidays or it makes a satisfying vegetarian main! Continue to read on for helpful tips on preparing perfect wild rice! And, don’t miss the in-depth step-by-step photos and recipe video at the bottom of the post!
Update: This post was originally published in November 2018. I’ve made updates to the post below to include more information about wild rice. Plus, I’ve included step-by-step photos and a recipe video to show you exactly how easy this rice salad is to make!
Hey there, friends! Can you believe (American) Thanksgiving is only 3 weeks away?!
With turkey day quickly approaching, it got me curious. Do you stick to a super traditional menu and serve the same tried and true dishes year after year? Or, are you someone who likes to take chances and shake things up a bit at each holiday?
I fall somewhere in the middle. While I do serve the same type of dish year after year (stuffing, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes), the way I prepare them will always vary. After all, variety is the spice of life!
Whether you are a diehard traditionalist or wild child who loves to take chances, today’s salad most definitely belongs on your holiday table!
Squash & Wild Rice Salad
Leafy, peppery arugula tossed with nutty, tender rice and slight sweet roasted delicata squash; then garnished with juicy pomegranate arils, salty pistachios, crunchy pumpkin seeds, decadent goat cheese crumbles and fresh scallions.
Finished with a generous drizzle (or glug) of silky, luscious, slightly sweet honey balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is packed with tons of different textures and harmonious flavors!
It’s healthy, hearty and easy on the eyes (and even easier on the taste buds)!
This squash wild rice salad is perfect for lunches or light dinners and would make a festive addition to your holiday table!
What is wild rice?
Wild rice is an edible whole grain of semi-aquatic grasses. However, wild rice is not the same thing as traditional rice (also known as Asian cereal), and it’s not technically a true rice at all. So, what makes wild rice different from traditional rice? Short answer – native location and the genus of grasses.
- Wild Rice Location: Wild rice is native to the Great Lakes region of North America; however, it also grows naturally in waterways all over the United States, as well as Asia. It was originally grown and harvested by Native Americans who consumed the grain for centuries. Thanks to growing agricultural practices, 70% of the wild rice grown in the United States is grown in California.
- Traditional Rice Location: Asian rice is native to Asia, or at least it was originally cultivated in Asia.
- Wild Rice Family: Wild rice belongs to the genus Zizania in the family of grasses called Poaceae.
- Traditional Rice Family: Asian rice belongs to the genus Oryza, also in the Poacaea family of grasses.
Take away: As you can see, wild rice and traditional rice belong to the same biological family and actually belong to the same tribe, Oryzeae. While they can’t be seen as identical, they can be seen as very similar, or at least first cousins.
What’s it taste like?
Wild rice has a slightly floral aroma with a wonderful nutty, earthy flavor. It’s has a thicker, more rigid hull than white or brown rice which results in a hearty, firm and slightly chewy texture.
While wild rice has a stronger flavor than white or brown rice, it’s an extremely versatile grain. It’s commonly served as a side dish, stirred into soups or used as a stuffing for meats and vegetables.
What is the difference between wild rice and black rice?
While wild rice is not a traditional rice at all, black rice (also known as Forbidden rice) is a member of the rice family.
Both wild rice and black rice have a chewy, nutty texture; however wild rice is a long black grain while black rice is a short grain.
I like to use a combination of both wild and black rice in this salad to create a depth of flavor, but feel free to use what you like.
What to put in rice salad?
This easy rice salad is bursting with layers of delicious flavor and delightful texture! This recipe relies on 8 simple, fresh ingredients plus a few pantry staples to create a festive, beautiful salad that’s beyond delicious!
Below are the ingredients I typically use. However, this salad is extremely flexible; so, be sure to scroll down and read about how to adapt this recipe to your specific taste!
Ingredients to make rice salad recipe
- Rice: 1 cup of raw wild rice provides a delicious nutty flavor and chewy texture. Wild rice is slightly expensive, so you can use a wild rice in combination with another rice to make this salad more economical. Bonus point – using two varieties of rice will also add more flavor! (See below for wild rice substitutes.)
- Squash: Delicata is an heirloom squash beloved for its rich brown sugar flavor! It tastes like a hybrid of pumpkin pie and fresh summer corn. When selecting delicata at the store, look for squash with light-colored, smooth skin that’s relatively heavy for its size. There is no need to peel the squash as the skin is edible!
- Greens: Fresh baby arugula, also known as rocket, has a mild, peppery taste that accents wild rice beautifully! Baby arugula has a more delicate flavor, but you can use mature arugula instead.
- Pomegranate Arils: Gorgeous pomegranate arils add a pop of color and a brilliant sweet-tart flavor! You can purchase a whole pomegranate and remove the seeds yourself, or you can purchase a package of pomegranate arils to save prep time!
- Onions: Scallions (green onions) add a touch of delicate onion flavor.
- Seeds & Nuts: A combination of pumpkin seeds and pistachios give this salad the perfect amount and variety of salty crunch!
- Cheese: Crumbly goat cheese, also known as chevre, offers a punch of tangy flavor and decadent, creamy texture.
- Dressing: A pantry-friendly, simple honey balsamic vinaigrette allows the individual flavors in the salad to really shine.
Want to make a few changes to this wild rice salad? Wonderful! I encourage you to make this dish your own! Get creative and add your favorite ingredients! Below are a few ideas to get you started.
- Squash: Can’t find delicata squash? No worries! You can dice and roast butternut or acorn squash and substitute those instead!
- Sweet Potato: Not a fan of squash? Not a problem! Peel, dice and roast sweet potatoes for a delicious alternative!
- Greens: Try using mild baby spinach or slightly peppery watercress instead of arugula!
- Nuts: Not a fan of pistachios? Substitute pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or pine nuts!
- Cheese: Crumbles of feta cheese or blue cheese work well instead of goat cheese!
- Grapes: Cut green or red grapes in half and add it to the salad for a burst of juicy flavor.
- Oranges or Tangerines: Segment an orange or tangerine and add it to the salad for pops of tart flavor.
- Apple: Peel and dice an apple to add a layer of sweet, juicy flavor!
- Dried fruit: Cranberries, apricots and raisins are all wonderful additions.
- Bell Peppers: Add red or yellow bell pepper for sweet, fresh flavor.
- Avocado: Peel and dice an avocado to add a bit of creamy texture and healthy fats. Since avocados oxidize, don’t add the avocado to the salad until just before serving.
- Fresh Herbs: Parsley, chives or basil are all welcome additions if you are looking to add fresh, herbaceous flavor!
Which rice for salad?
If you can’t find wild rice or simply prefer to use a different variety of rice, the below alternatives are delicious substitutions for wild rice! You can use any of the below varieties in a 1:1 substitute ratio.
Wild rice substitutes
- Brown Rice: Long-grain brown rice is one of the best readily available substitutions for wild rice. While brown rice is milder tasting, it has a similar nutty flavor and chewy texture.
- Black Rice: Also known as forbidden rice, black rice has a similar nutty texture, however it has a slightly sweet flavor not found in wild rice. (I like mixing wild rice with black rice for a robust depth of flavor.)
- Brown Basamati Rice: Basamati rice is an easy, readily available substitute for wild rice. It has a similar nutty, earthy taste and chewy, firm texture as wild rice; however, it becomes fluffy when cooked.
- Wild Pecan Rice: This hybrid variety of rice is not a type of wild rice. It has a similar nutty texture; however, it has an added faint taste of pecans. Wild pecan rice isn’t broadly available and can be difficult to locate.
If you want to shake things up and switch up the flavors, you can use any of the below wild rice alternatives instead! Substitute the rice alternatives in a 1:1 ratio.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is fluffy yet slightly creamy with a mild nutty flavor.
- Cauliflower Rice: Cauliflower rice is incredibly versatile with a very mild taste and it soaks up flavor beautifully. You can use raw cauliflower rice or you can quickly cook it, just avoid overcooking it!
- Barley: Barley is a wonderful ancient grain with a subtle nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture, similar to brown rice.
- Farro: Farro looks and tastes similar to barley; however, it retains a chewier texture when cooked.
- Whole-Wheat Couscous: Couscous is a natural pasta and not a type of grain. It’s tiny with a neutral flavor and becomes extremely fluffy when cooked.
How to cook wild rice?
Unlike other grains of rice, wild rice has a firm outer sheath (or shell) that needs to soften with gentle cooking. While other varieties of rice rely on a specific ratio of rice to water and absorption to cook, wild rice is much easier to cook!! In fact, wild rice is cooked similar to pasta – you simmer it in a large amount of liquid and strain it!
This recipe calls for cooking wild rice on the stove top, which is the most common way to prepare it.
How to cook wild rice on the stovetop
- Bring liquid to a boil: Add stock, broth, water, or any combination of the two, to a boil in a medium or large saucepan.
- Add the wild rice: Stir in the wild rice. Bring the rice to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Cover and simmer: Cover the pan and simmer for 40-45 minutes.
- Drain and use: Drain the rice in a fine mesh sieve and use as desired!
Pro-tip: Wild rice grains triple in size, so 1 cup of dried wild rice will yield roughly 3 cups of cooked rice.
What is the best water to rice ratio?
The best ratio for water to wild rice is 1 cup of wild rice to 4 cups of water. For more flavor, I highly recommend cooking wild rice in vegetable or chicken stock instead of water; however, you can use vegetable or chicken broth, or a combination of stock and water if you would like!
How to know when wild rice is done cooking?
Although wild rice is very easy to cook, it’s important to cook it for the correct amount of time. You should follow cooking instructions and make sure your rice has softened enough to eat!
Wild rice is done cooking when it has cracked and revealed its soft inner grain. It should be chewy and tender in texture. Avoid overcooking wild rice as it will become quite mushy and unappetizing!
What is delicata squash?
Delicata squash, also known as sweet potato squash or Bohemian squash, is technically a summer squash, although it is classified as a variety of winter squash due to its harvest late in the year.
This cream-colored, heirloom gourd has a characteristically delicate skin (or rind).
Delicata squash has a rich, brown sugar flavor and can be consumed roasted (baked), sautéed, steamed, boiled or microwaved.
Can you eat squash skin?
Yes, delicata squash skin is edible! Since delicata squash have a softer, thinner rind than other winter squashes, it does not need to be peeled before consuming.
How to roast delicata squash?
To roast delicata squash, first make sure you cut down the center of the squash, lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds.
Then, proceed to cut the squash into thin, half-moon rounds (or slices). I like to cut mine into rounds about ½’’ inch thick, but just keep in mind the thinner you slice them, the faster they will cook.
Finally, toss the squash slices with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast delicata squash at 425 degrees F until the squash is tender and golden brown.
Is delicata squash healthy?
Delicata squash is packed with nutrients, vitamins and has quite a few health benefits.
Rich in nutrients and both vitamins B and C, this yellow and green stripped squash is an excellent source of energy and can help boost your immune system.
As well, delicata squash contains lots of vitamin A and a high content of beta-carotene which is fantastic for improving vision.
Delicata is also a great source of calcium, fiber and naturally gluten-free.
How to make wild rice salad?
This grain salad is incredibly simple and easy to prepare! This recipe can be prepped in advance and stores beautifully in the refrigerator!
(Don’t forget to scroll down for the detailed instructions in the complete printable recipe at the bottom of the page.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Cook rice: Add stock (broth or water) to a medium saucepan. Season water with salt and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the rice is just tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and drain the rice thoroughly, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Transfer the drained rice to a large baking sheet and allow it to steam dry and cool completely.
- While the rice is cooking, roast the squash: Drizzle squash rounds with oil and season generously with sea salt and a pinch of pepper. Toss to combine. Roast the squash on a sheet pan for 15 minutes. Flip the squash over and continue to roast for 8-12 minutes, or until tender and just golden brown.
- Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Assemble: In a large mixing bowl bowl, combine the arugula, pomegranate and green onions with some of the seeds, nuts and goat cheese. Toss with a little bit of the dressing.
- Serve: Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or plate. Add the remaining seeds, nuts and goat cheese. Top with the squash. Serve the remaining dressing on the side and serve immediately. Enjoy!
How to cook rice salad step by step photos:
Tips for making ahead and freezing wild rice salad:
Can I make rice salad in advance?
Absolutely! I often cook the wild rice the day before to ensure it’s completely cool before assembling the salad. I’ll also prep the ingredients and make the dressing in advance to save time if I’m meal prepping or serving this salad at the holidays!
- Rice: Cook the wild rice according to the recipe directions and allow the rice to cool on the counter to room temperature. Transfer the rice to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Wild rice will keep in the refrigerator for 4-6 days.
- Dressing: Whisk together the dressing and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Homemade vinaigrette dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Meal prep pro-tip: Cook an extra batch of wild rice and keep it in the fridge to add to soups and salads during the week!
Can wild rice be frozen?
Yes, you can freeze cooked wild rice for 4-6 months!
To freeze rice:
- Cook: Cook the rice according to recipe instructions.
- Drain and Cool: Drain the wild rice thoroughly. Spread the rice out in an even layer on a large baking sheet and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Store: Transfer rice to airtight storage containers or freezer-safe resealable bags. Store in the freezer until ready to use.
- To use: Thaw the rice in the refrigerator overnight. Use the rice in your favorite recipes!
Pro-tip: Freeze rice in individual servings (1-cup quantities) for easy to use portions!
Tips for serving squash rice salad:
How to serve rice salad?
This easy wild grain salad is hearty enough to be served as a stand-alone vegetarian meal; however, you can also serve it as a starter or side dish!
You can serve this rice salad recipe cold, warm or at room temperature! Cold leftovers make the perfect grab-and-go lunch for hectic work days!
What to serve with wild rice salad?
This hearty, healthy salad is so versatile! It’s the perfect addition to your holiday table or it can be enjoyed as an easy weeknight side dish!
10 entrees to pair with wild rice
Below are a few delicious main dishes that complement this salad beautifully!
- Thanksgiving Turkey
- Holiday Roast
- Roast Chicken
- Pork Tenderloin
- Roast Salmon
- Crab Cakes
- Lobster Tail
- Poached Fish
- Hearty bowl of Chili
10 side dishes to serve alongside rice salad
Side dishes for this salad can be as light and simple as seasonal vegetables or a green salad. Or, you can pair it with sausage stuffing and luscious mash potatoes for a more comforting, festive meal!
- Cranberry Relish
- Simple Spinach Salad
- Roast Seasonal Vegetable Medley
- Glazed Carrots
- Roast Green Beans
- Brussels Sprouts au Gratin
- Spinach Casserole
- Chestnut stuffing
- Mash Potatoes
- Healthy Mac n’ Cheese
This delicata squash wild rice salad is truly a celebration of color, texture and flavors! Satisfying as meal or perfect as a substantial side, this salad is sure to impress!
Until next week, friends, cheers – to sensational salads!
Looking for more grain recipes?
If you love this rice salad, try one of these delicious recipes next:
Roasted Delicata Squash Wild Rice Salad Recipe 👇
Delicata Squash Wild Rice Salad Recipe
- 1 large Delicata Squash (about 1 ½ pounds total)
- 2 TBS Olive Oil
- Sea Salt & Pepper
- 4 Cups Stock, Broth or Water (or mix of both)
- 1 Cup Wild Rice (about 6.25 ounces)
- 4 cups Baby Arugula (can substitute baby spinach or mixed greens)
- 1 Cup Pomegranate Arils
- ½ Cup Green Onions – sliced (both white and green parts)
- ¼ Cup Pumpkin Seeds
- ¼ Cup Roasted Pistachios
- 4 ounces Soft Goat Cheese or Feta – crumbled
- ¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 ½ - 2 TBS Honey
- 1 tsp Dijon
- Kosher Salt & Ground Black Pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper for easy clean up. Set aside.
- Cook rice: Add stock (broth or water) to a medium saucepan. Season water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt (unless stock is salted). Bring stock to a boil. Stir in the rice and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the rice is tender but not super soft, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and drain the rice thoroughly, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Transfer drained rice to a large rimmed baking sheet and allow it to steam dry and cool completely.
- Meanwhile, roast the squash: Cut the delicata squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and place the squash cut side down. Proceed to cut each half into ½’’ thick half-moon rounds. Drizzle the squash rounds with oil and season generously with sea salt and a pinch of pepper. Toss to combine. Roast the squash on prepared sheet pan for 15 minutes. Flip squash over and continue to roast for 8-12 minutes, or until tender and just golden brown. (Keep an eye on the squash towards the end of roasting, as squash can go from golden to burnt quickly)
- Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, and for sweetness with honey.
- Assemble: In a large mixing bowl bowl, combine the arugula, pomegranate and green onions with some of the seeds, nuts and goat cheese. Toss with half of the dressing.
- Serve: Transfer salad to a serving bowl or plate. Add the remaining seeds, nuts and goat cheese. Top with the squash. Serve the remaining dressing on the side and serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Squash: I cut my delicata squash into half-moon rounds about ½’’ inch thick. You can cut yours thicker or thinner, however just keep in mind the thinner you slice them, the faster they will cook and vice-versa.
- Rice: You can use another variety of rice instead, or a combination of rices; however you may need to adjust the cook time. (See post for list of rices you can use. Please note, I don't recommend amaranth for this recipe.)
- Elements of this salad can be made in advance to save prep time the day of serving. To make ahead: Prepare the rice, roast the squash and make the dressing. Store each separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The day of, assemble the salad but do not toss with dressing. Toss with dressing right before serving.
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