Nov 6, 2011

Wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries and pecans

When I saw a recipe for a colorful rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries and pecans on A Communal Table, I knew it was destined for my Thanksgiving menu. When I made a batch for my pre-Thanksgiving run-through, I discovered that it’s even better than I had hoped, garnering a lot of “wows” from my trusty tasters.

I made a few tweaks, most importantly using all wild rice rather than a wild rice mix, which has just a bit of wild rice, and generally not even the real thing at that. For truly wild rice, look for the stuff harvested by hand from lakes in Minnesota and Canada. It’s a big cut above the cultivated variety (which may also be produced in Minnesota, so the state isn’t the only criteria here.)

The dressing used here is a revelation, and I give all the credit to A Communal Table. With lemon and orange juices, fresh ginger and spices, it provides a shock of flavor. I think I’ll be finding many other uses for it.

And in case you haven’t noticed, this pilaf is 100% guilt-free. Wild rice (which is actually a grass) is vegan, gluten free, high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. So it’s an ideal recipe for my Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge.

I prefer this served as a warm pilaf, although it also makes a delicious salad if you want to prepare it in advance (be sure to bring it to at least room temperature before serving).

Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Pecans

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
2 cups wild rice, rinsed
6 cups vegetable stock (or half water, half stock)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup warm water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional but good!)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the squash on two baking sheets. Roast until tender and starting to brown, about 20 minutes (check earlier if your pieces are very small).

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes.

Place the dried cranberries in a bowl with the warm water and vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil, lemon zest, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, orange juice, lemon juice and fresh ginger.

Place the wild rice and stock in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes, or until some of the grains start to split. The rice should still be quite chewy. Drain thoroughly and place in a large bowl.

Add the onions and garlic, cranberries, parsley, pecans and dressing to the wild rice and stir. Gently mix in the roasted squash. Serve warm if possible, or at room temperature.

Serves 8


  • Looks like a great rice dish. Interesting flavour combos there… so many spices with orange and lemon will be delicious!

  • Tracy

    Wow, that looks so close to what I just made this weekend. I used roasted chestnuts instead of pecans though, fried onions, garlic, carrots, celery, mushrooms in bacon drippings with sage and thyme, and tossed in leftover gruyere to hold it together instead of adding a dressing. It was stuffed into delicata squash–and looks so much like your photo! I can’t stop eating it and can’t wait for Thanksgiving. Thanks for the stuffed squash inspiration from an earlier post!

  • this is beautiful!

  • That looks delicious! I love cranberries and butternut squash. I can’t believe it’s time to be thinking about the Thanksgiving menu already. Where did the year go ?

  • This sounds amazing! I just posted it on twitter on my Seasonal Thanksgiving board. To see more ideas for Thanksgiving you can check it out here:

  • Oh wow, delish! I saw it on A Communal Table too, and have been eyeing it ever since. In fact, just today I was looking into different types of wild rice to use with it. Thanks for the clarification of truly wild rice, and opposed to wild rice mix. I’ll be making this, lots of it!

  • This looks and sounds so tasty. And I’m always looking for new butternut squash recipes. Thanks for sharing this one!

  • This sounds like a really great combination!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Thanks, Chinmayie, Tracy, Kaylin, Valentina, Christin, Becky, Julia, Cathy and Kalyn. Glad this one is calling out to all of you! It really is delicious. And one of my favorite photos of late :)

  • I just made something similar (and had seen Nancy’s recipe before), but I didn’t use the vinaigrette which sounds WAY BETTER than what I made! Ok, I will have to use the real recipe next time, but I loved the combination of ingredients!

  • What a lovely pilaff, I adore all those beautiful autumnal colours. Its an absolute beauty!
    *kisses* HH

  • Looks sooooo good! I want to add this to my Thanksgiving menu too! :)

  • Hi Cathy!

    So glad the dish was a hit at your house! Had no idea that some mixes didn’t contain real wild rice so of course, had to run and check to see if mine did – luckily mine did – have to make sure I check though in the future!!

  • Molly

    I made this last night and it was delicious! I used 2 small leeks instead of the onion and I added about 2-3 cups of chickpeas that I wanted to use up.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Adding chickpeas is an interesting variation. Thanks for the idea!

  • Yummy! Just did a test run for Thanksgiving & it’s a keeper.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Thanks….and wow, YOUR gardening blog is beautiful.

  • Katie

    This sounds like what I’m looking for to bring to Thanksgiving dinner this year. I don’t cook much using vegetable or chicken stock, but wondered how it would change the flavor Cathy, and if you’d recommend against changing it to chicken stock… Thank you for posting!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi Katie. If you aren’t a vegetarian, then by all means use chicken stock. The flavor will be great. If you buying it, be sure to get a low-sodium variety.

  • […] my parents’ more meat-focused feast as well. This year’s main dish-worthy sides include What Would Cathy Eat?’s Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans (substituing sweet potato for the squash due to my father squash aversion and currants for […]

  • […] hearty wild rice pilaf from What Would Cathy Eat? invoked memories of stuffing from my mother’s childhood Thanksgivings with somewhat of an […]

  • Lindy

    Thank you! I loved this recipe. I made this to replace my butter & sugar drenched sweet potatoe recipe. It was delicous and healthy! I substituted raisins for cranberries. It met our requirements. No latose, no cranberry, low chloresterol. Great recipe.

  • […] Wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries, and pecans […]

  • Sandy Derr

    I made this tonight for my vegan potluck Thanksgiving meal tomorrow afternoon. It looks lovely, tastes amazing, and perfectly suits the holiday. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe with us.

  • lesley k

    This is great!!..I made it last week for my office potluck. It was a huge hit. I will make again for thanksgiving. Your wild rice suggestion was helpful, I used an amazing canadian brand of wild hand harvested rice. More expensive, but totally worth it.

  • […] family’s second vegan holiday feast, the highlights of which included Baked Almond Feta, Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans, Rosemary Sweet Potato Cornbread, and Raw Mini Apricot Swirl Cheesecakes. Sadly, however, as I […]

  • […] Wild Rice and Butternut Squash dish from this recipe […]

  • Michelle H

    I made this last night for a meal with gluten intolerant and food allergy guests – it was a hit with everyone! Thanks for the recipe, it’s going in the “make again” file!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Glad to hear that, Michelle! Hope you try more of my recipes.

  • […] The idea for this dish came from “What would Cathy eat?“, This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink. ← Bagels… are […]

  • Cathy – Wonderful mixture of flavors. I used this as a basis for a warm salad on Thanksgiving and it was a HUGE hit! Thanks — Mark

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  • whoah this weblog is magnificent i like reading your posts. Keep up the great paintings! You realize, a lot of people are searching round for this information, you could help them greatly.

  • Using those fall pecans will make all things great, and i like the rice part as well. My new pecan cracker from will make short work of cracking my pecans and hope to try this soon. Thanks for the recipe, Rick.

  • Cyndie

    I made this last night for a dinner party. I used delicata squash instead of butternut. Everyone raved about it! Great recipe!

  • […] Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash […]

  • Elizabeth H

    I’ve been admiring this recipe for some time, but wondering whether you use sweetened dried cranberries (as nearly all are), or unsweetened. I think it would make a significant difference.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Yes, they were sweetened. I haven’t managed to find unsweetened ones anywhere. Odd that Whole Foods doesn’t carry them. I hope you try the recipe, Elizabeth!

  • Elizabeth H

    Thanks for the quick answer! Trader Joe’s told me that their freeze dried berries are unsweetened; I could try those. In fact, I could prep both and do a little test right at the final blending there. I’m hosting a vegetarian gluten-free dinner on Friday evening so am taking fewer chances than I might normally.

    I also got my own dehydrator several weeks ago, but I understand cranberries are about the trickiest item one could undertake to dry… Maybe later.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Freeze dried might be kind of weird, they have a very different texture. Just my two cents :)

  • Elizabeth H

    Well, that’s why I asked… Fresh cranberries are here now too, but now I can just try the recipe as written, before fiddling with them (parboil in maple syrup?). Some people in this house eat fresh cranberries on their breakfast cereal!

    Thanks again!


  • Mvrs

    Thanks for the recipe! I tossed a few cups of fresh cranberries onto parchment paper and dried them out in a 250-degree oven for about 20 minutes, then peeled them up and cooled them. It was an experiment, and they turned out even better than I expected!

  • […] […]

  • Stephanie

    I have made this several times, and my family loves it! I used sweet potatoes and squash on different occasions (by accident–I bought it already cut up once and realized it was sweet potatoes). Sweet potatoes seem to be preferred, but not by much. I followed one comment and used leeks as well as onions this time and I liked that addition! The only issue I had was that the liquid does not fully absorb. I just drained it as the rice was very tender. Maybe I’ll put less broth next time?

    Thanks–it was a huge hit!

  • […] Recipe and photo courtesy of What Would Cathy Eat […]

  • […] an interesting speaker, and each other’s company. This year, I thought about bringing this Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, or Cranberries and Pecans, but my hectic work schedule inspired me to instead bring vegan doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnut. […]

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  • Char

    Catthy, I made this recipe last night and it is delish. The one question i have is my hubby brought home, wild rice package it was mixed with wild rice, bismatti and brown.. Is this considered a wild rice or a combo of rice, just asking cause He couldnt find and “wild rice” that didnt come without seasonings?

  • Mmm – I like genie’s idea of including crmaadom – am loving adding that to various things right now!This would be a nice way to do my *standard* oven baked chicken n rice – I bring water (twice as much as the rice) to a boil while preping the chicken, & saute the rice (brown! & sometimes a mix with red & etc or wild rice) in a bit of coconut oil till it’s opaque, then put it in a 9×13 glass baking dish, & pour the water over. (adding in fav. seasonings – the cranberries etc sound great!!) & put the chicken pieces on top of that.Bake (325?? it’s been awhile!!) for ~ an hour.The chicken juices soak into the rice, & if you use free range chicken, all the better!! I’d prob. stir the curry paste into thick coconut milk, for a more traditional curry taste – & to add the bennies of coconut!! (& add coconut flakes to the rice – maybe a bit more coconut milk there as well)MMM

  • Meredith

    I just made this and it is truly fantastic! I am really impressed by your ability to balance and flavors and textures.

    It was some work to cook, but definitely worth it.

  • […] Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Pecans [What Would Cathy […]

  • […] Wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries and pecans […]

  • Emily O

    I tried this, and I have to tell you. The lemon and orange was a bit too much and did not work for me. Harris teeter had a really good one last year and I was trying to make it like that. But the lemon & orange kind of ruined it.

  • Jennifer

    I found the recipe hard to follow, but I always read recipes before preparation. It was a lot of preparation and I said outloud, “This better be worth all this prep work.” Well, it was. I had to keep in the refrigerator so I could take it to our vacation spot. It was reheated in the oven, frozen after that and reheated again in a double boiler. I finished up the last bowl straight from the refrigerator. I am making again. It is my NEW favorite side dish. My daughter thought it was to many flavors all together, my husband also didn’t like. My son-in-law shares my passion for this dish. Thanks Cathy!

  • […] Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash from What Would Cathy Eat? […]

  • Carla Krott

    One of our children is vegan, this will be a great addition to Sunday dinner, always worried that he doesn’t have as many choices as everyone else, and they will all love this one.

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