This is manoomin. Maybe, spelled manomin. Either way is an Anglicization of an Anishinaabemowin word that existed long before English was introduced to the Americas. This is manomin; it is Anishinaabe food.
It’s not wild rice. That term was brought by French missionaries who first called it avoine sauvage, a ‘savage’ or wild version of a crop they loosely recognized from back home.
This manoomin was brought to me by Jana-Rae Yerxa, harvested and roasted by her grandfather in Treaty 3 territory in what is currently called Ontario. That name, though, doesn’t account for the names that existed here long before Ontario was pasted on top of those other names, before this place was ‘discovered’ or ‘founded’ or whatever other colonial notions were used to justify the theft of the land and the displacement of the people from it. And, the displacement of the food grown for the people from the land. This is manoomin from unceded Anishinaabe homelands.
All of this matters. Naming matters. Because, naming is way of claiming a place; naming is tied to language and the logic of placing and knowing everything. Naming is a way of claiming, a way of knowing, a way of understanding the world. Indigenous naming practices contest the colonialism that erased their names, reclaiming space and place as Indigenous space and place.
Manoomin reroutes the history of this food, away from the ‘discovery’ of it by French missionaries and explorers, back through the Anishinaabe who have tended, cared for, harvested, planted, sustained and been sustained by it for thousands of years.
This reclamation and rerouting is important because of colonialism and its erasure of Indigenous place, people, language, and foods – of Indigenous ways of being. Erasure is one way of thinking of it; another is genocide. Colonialism attacked every aspect of Indigenous society in its attempt to eradicate what it saw as an ‘Indian problem’. Colonialism removed people from the places where they harvested manoomin, it destroyed the manoomin itself, it taught the Anishinaabe that the ceremonies connected to manoomin were forbidden, it starved the Anishinaabe and then claimed it was their own fault. It tried to kill the relationships between the Anishinaabe and the manomin.
Jana-Rae has written an article on this, on how her community is renewing its relationships with manoomin as part of a resurgence of Anishinaabe nationhood. She writes that the harvesting and roasting of manoomin is a ceremonial act, a practical act and a political act: manoomin has sustained the Anishinaabe people for thousands of years, and they have in turn sustained it. Manomin has survived, the Anishinaabe have survived and, through Anishinaabe resurgence, they will both thrive into the future.
I’ve seen ‘wild rice’ (as well as other Indigenous foods and practices) being claimed as ‘Canadian food’ but I think it’s important to reject both of these naming practices. Manoomin is Anishinaabe food. Making this recipe begins here: by recognizing the political importance of naming this manoomin, by recognizing the Anishinaabe, their nationhood, the land on which they live and have done so for thousands of years, and the resurgences necessary to ensure that both manoomin and the Anishinaabe thrive into the future. This is important.
The bandana in the photographs was made by a friend, artist, and Anishinaabe genius – Susan Blight – who has produced a range of work around Anishinaabe naming practices, including the powerful Ogimaa Mikana Project. When she made the bandanas she wrote they they were made “especially made for wild ricing and time travel” and this resonated with something that Jana-Rae wrote in her essay: “the past, present and future came alive at the same time. In those moments of roasting manoomin at Neyaashing, time had no boundaries.” The bandanas bring these same temporalities alive, asserting Anishinaabe presence into the future.
For more on the importance of naming and acknowledging Indigenous place and land, you can read this website’s Land Acknowledgement here.
Manoomin and Grilled Halloumi Salad
Manoomin is a staple grain of the Anishinaabe. It grows along in the shallows along the edges of lakes and, at the end of summer when it is ready to harvest, you can see canoes gliding along the tall grasses, bending the plants over the canoe and knocking the grains of manoomin into the boat. From there, it must be sorted and cleaned and then roasted, typically in a metal drum over an open fire. It leaves the manoomin with a gorgeous nutty and earthy flavor, often with a hint of smoke. When the grains curl and burst in the pot, it is a beautifully fragrant moment. In this recipe, I've used it to make a whole grain salad this is hearty but also light and bright enough for a summer meal in the backyard. It is packed with protein and vegetables and would make a complete vegetarian meal if you wanted, or a side for a larger spread. The halloumi (a firm Middle Eastern cheese) is grilled, adding another layer of smoky goodness, and then combined with the manoomin and a host of other ingredients that might be typical in a Middle Eastern dish: roasted red peppers, walnuts, onions, and parsley. The dressing is also a nod to a Middle Eastern salad, though with the addition of the maple syrup there is another nod to another Anishinaabe staple: tart flavors of pomegranate molasses mix with the sweetness of the maple syrup and the briny, bright flavors of the preserved lemons add another layer.
- 1 cup manoomin
- 350 g halloumi
- 2 medium roasted red peppers, sliced or diced
- ½ purple onion, sliced thinly
- 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- large handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 preserved lemon rind, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
If you are roasting your own peppers (as I like to do), do this first (you can do this up to a few days ahead of time and store the roasted peppers in the fridge). Heat your oven to 425F. Slice the peppers in half, length wise, core and deseed them, then place them skin side up on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast the peppers until the skin blackens all over and the flesh is soft. Place the peppers in a plastic bag or small container with a lid, and close. After 10 minutes or so they will be soft and the skin will peel off easily. Peel skin and they’re ready to use.
Cook the manoomin according to instructions. This will vary widely depending on the rice, how it was roasted, etc. Cook until there is still a slight chewiness but the grains are opened and soft. Drain and set aside.
For the dressing, whisk everything together in a bowl and set aside.
Cut the halloumi into long strips, approximate ½ inch wide. Grill (or, if you don’t have a grill, you can sear them in a frying pan) until browned on each side, approximately 4-6 minutes. Cut into small squares, approximately ½ inch by ½ inch.
Assemble the salad. Mix the dressing with the rice in a large bowl, then add the red peppers, onion, walnuts, parsley and halloumi. Mix gently and serve.
No preserved lemons? Add a pinch of lemon zest instead. Or, I’ve omitted it as well and the salad still tastes great!