Friday, July 15, 2011

Rice-A-Roni Salad

This is another old timey summer salad I discovered years ago. It’s perfect for potlucks, barbecues, and family meals. It’s another salad that can easily be made ahead and transported.

You can find many recipes available on the internet including the Rice-A-Roni website. Most recipes start with a package of cooked chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni. Chopped green onions, water chestnuts, and marinated artichoke hearts are added along with a generous portion of mayonnaise. The whole thing is then mixed together and chilled.

As with most recipes that use grocery store items, the salad can be high in sodium. The Rice-A-Roni, marinated artichokes, and mayonnaise combine to produce a dish that is not low sodium at all. But creating a low sodium version is really quite easy.

The first obstacle to tackle is the rice. There are basically two ways to go: use the lower sodium version of Rice-A-Roni or make your own salt-free chicken flavored rice. A 2.5 oz. serving size of the low sodium Rice-A-Roni gives you 670 mgs. sodium. That may be lower than the regular product at 1060 mgs. sodium, but it’s still a lot. If you use the lower sodium version, I suggest that you add at least ¼ - ⅓ cup plain white rice and adjust the water accordingly.
It’s a lot easier to just make your own rice. If you really want to duplicate the taste of chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni, do NOT use canned or homemade chicken broth. You need to use something like Herb Ox sodium-free bouillon granules. That’s the flavor secret to Rice-A-Roni. Real chicken broth may be superior for other applications but not for duplicating the Rice-A-Roni experience. I usually make a cup of white rice flavored with three (3) packets of the Herb Ox sodium-free granules.
On to the marinated artichokes hearts. CaraMia artichoke hearts have 105 mgs. sodium for just 2 pieces while Mezzetta brand has 80 mgs. Considering that the salad recipe calls for the entire jar of artichoke heart pieces (and some of the marinade), those figures are a bit too high for anyone on a low sodium diet. One way to get around the problem is to rinse and drain the artichoke hearts well before adding them to the salad. In case you’re wondering, plain canned artichoke hearts are not much better. The best solution is to make your own version using frozen artichokes hearts. C & W has a fine frozen product as does Trader Joe’s. Cook the frozen artichokes according to package directions and reserve some of the cooking water for the marinade. If you read the labels of all the different marinated artichoke heart brands, the marinade ingredient list is the same: water, oil, vinegar, salt, garlic, spices, ascorbic and citric acid. So all you need to do is make a watery, sour vinaigrette and let the artichoke pieces soak for a couple of hours or even overnight.

Finally, don’t use all mayonnaise for the dressing. Combine equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream. And use some of your homemade vinaigrette to further moisten the salad.

This is one of those salads that lends itself to all kinds of variations and adjustments. You can add cooked chicken or shrimp to make it a main dish salad. Chopped bell pepper – green or red – would be a nice addition as would toasted slivered or sliced almonds. For even more crunch, you could add sliced celery. Sun dried tomato pieces would add color and flavor as well. Some recipes call for curry powder – anywhere from ¼ tsp. to a full teaspoon.

It can easily be made a day in advance and kept chilled until serving. So it’s a perfect make-ahead salad when company is expected.

Low Sodium “Rice-A-Roni” Salad

Artichoke Hearts:
1 package frozen artichoke hearts
¼ cup light flavored vegetable oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. vinegar (clear colored)
2 tbsp. artichoke cooking water
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch dried, crushed red pepper
Pinch dried oregano

Cook frozen artichoke hearts according to package directions. Drain well, reserving cooking water. Place artichokes in bowl. Combine oil, lemon juice, artichoke water, garlic, red pepper, & oregano. Pour marinade over artichoke hearts. Let soak for at least two hours to overnight.

1 cup white rice
1 tbsp. butter/oil
2-2 ¼ cups water
3 packets salt- free chicken flavored bouillon granules
1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes

Sauté rice in butter over medium heat until it turns a golden brown. Add water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a slow simmer. Add bouillon granules and parsley flakes, stirring to incorporate. Let rice cook covered for at least 20 minutes until tender and all the water has been absorbed. Take pan off heat and let rice cool.

2-4 green onions, chopped
1 8-oz. can sliced water chestnuts, rinsed and drained
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream (low fat works well)

Drain artichokes, reserving marinade. Cut large pieces in half. Combine cooled rice, drained artichokes, green onions, and water chestnuts. Mix together mayonnaise and sour cream and at least ¼ cup of reserved marinade. Pour over rice mixture and toss until well mixed. Add more marinade if needed. Cover tightly and chill before serving. (Reserve leftover marinade just in case the salad needs further moistening after chilling.)

1-2 cups cooked chicken (chopped or cut in thin strips) or shrimp
¼ - ⅓ cup thinly sliced celery
¼ - ⅓ cup chopped green or red pepper
¼ - ⅓ cup toasted slivered or sliced almonds
¼ - ⅓ cup sun dried tomatoes, julienned or chopped
¼ - 1 tsp. curry powder (added to mayonnaise mixture)


Christy @ The Daily Dish said...

Okay, first of all I laughed out loud when I read "the rice-a-roni experience"! LOVE IT! It *is* the San Francisco treat! LOL

This sounds delicious. We have some of the chicken granules (totally agree w/ your description; I don't much care for them plain, but they do work wonders with rice and grains). Going to have to find some frozen artichoke hearts at Trader Joe's. Did you know they just came out w/ a new type of salt free potato chips?! A trio of colors, red white and blue - zero mg per serving. John & I sampled them last night and BOY are they great.

Thanks for another great recipe Shambo! Look forward to trying it. :)

shambo said...

Christy, we picked up a package of the TJ multi-colored potato chips last week. What a surprise that they are salt free. And they taste great too. So now we've got three different brands that are available locally for us -- Tim's, Terra, and TJ's. It's fun to have choices, isn't it?