Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs

It feels like the big wind-down right about now. The kids have a month of school left, yes, but they've already taken their big tests, had their spring concerts. (Birdy playing Space Oddity on electric guitar! Be still my heart.) The lilacs have given way to the peonies. My cigar-tube vase is full of bleeding hearts and lilies of the valley and even, already, a purple iris. 

The cat is finding nice shady spots to rest in. 

We've eaten the last of our friends' morels, picked from beneath their apple trees. Sauteed with butter and wine and cream. 

Perfection on toast.
Ben is in summer bartending mode.

Fresh cherry-mint mojito.
And we are eating a lot of salads. Partly because Birdy's arugula patch is like something UFOed down from a planet that has devoted all of eternity to perfecting the growing of arugula, and partly because that's just what we (as in *I*) feel like eating all the time. Salad and bread and cheese. Spring food.

Arugula with peppered farm cheese, slivered dates, toasted almonds, and a warm white-wine-vinegar vinaigrette. Can I get an amen? I promise that if I had pictures of Michael and me fighting about stupid stuff, I'd post those too. 
And the salad, below, with a long headnote explaining itself. We ate it at home, and had enough for lunch the next day. It would be perfect for a potluck.

Meanwhile, I have pieces to read here at Parents, and here, at the brand-new Motherwell, if you are so inclined! Thank you, as always, for being here.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs
This is the kind of thing I always want to eat for dinner: fresh and wholesome and incredibly tasty, with lots of different flavors and textures to keep you interested through an entire bowlful. It’s also the kind of thing that mostly uses ingredients I have already, except for whatever the main veg is. In this case, a friend of ours had given us a lovely bunch of green garlic, which actually inspired me to make this. And all our herbs are flourishing, so all I had to do was pop out to the asparagus stand nearby! I was also inspired by Anna Jones’ A ModernWay to Eat, which I checked out of the library. She makes a similar salad, but using broccoli and spinach and different kinds of seeds. Feel free to swap those in for the asparagus, or to use snap peas or green beans if that’s what you’ve got. A diced red radish would be nice too!

Kosher salt
1 ½ cups quinoa
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek or some green garlic, thinly sliced, or ½ an onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
1 cup of fresh or frozen green peas (I didn’t have these, but I wished I did!)
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper
2 tablespoons capers
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used mint, basil, parsley, and chives)
1 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or almonds, if you prefer)
Chive blossoms for garnish, if you have them

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt. Add the quinoa and stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open a bit. (It will continue to cook as it steams, so don’t cook it until it’s soft at this point.)

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, or up to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat, and sauté the leeks (or whatever you’re using for this) with a large pinch of salt, until they’re tender. This may take a while, up to 15 minutes, so if they start to dry out go ahead and add a splash or two of water. When the leeks are tender, add the asparagus, and sauté until just bright green. Turn the heat off. If you’ve erred on the side of overcooking the asparagus, transfer everything to a large bowl, otherwise you can leave it in the pan with the heat off to cook a little longer.

At some point, add the frozen peas to something still hot so that they thaw and briefly steam. The quinoa pot is a good choice, as is the panful of asparagus.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a glass measuring cup or just a glass, add the zest and a teaspoon of kosher salt (or half as much table salt), then measure in enough olive oil to match the level of the lemon juice. Season with black pepper and whisk to combine.

Put the quinoa, vegetables, and capers in a large bowl and pour most of the dressing over. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and taste. The feta will add some saltiness, but if it’s radically undersalted at this point, add some more salt. Likewise, add the rest of the dressing and/or a bit of lemon and/or olive oil if it needs livening up or seems underdressed. The key to this being delicious is to season it really well.

Stir in the herbs, feta, and pine nuts, taste one last time, garnish, and serve.


  1. Ahhh I love this and the two pieces you linked to!

  2. This recipe sounds delicious. If I highly dislike feta cheese, what would be a good substitute?

    1. You could totally leave it out, is one idea, but grated parm would be good, or diced mozzarella, or even little blobs of ricotta.

    2. Thank you! Leave out the cheese? (Gasp! I love cheese too much) Parm or mozzarella sounds perfect.

  3. Jennifer lb11:09 PM

    My kid says the only appropriate response to the arugula patch is "take me to your weeder"

    1. plazamom5:52 PM

      Love that!

  4. Yum. I'll make that.

  5. omg, Catherine! the parents piece made me cry as I remembered those feelings about laundry and tiny growing beings. My daughters are adults now, but your words brought those onesies (Dreft!) back in a minute.
    thank you

  6. Anonymous9:55 AM

    OH! I'd totally forgotten about Dreft until I read this! You just brought back a strong visceral memory for me of when my babies (now 16, 13, and 8) were *actually* still babies.... Excuse me while I go cry a little bit now! :)

    1. Anonymous9:56 AM

      (in response to Polly's comment)

  7. Marina in WV2:14 PM

    Recipe for cherry mint mojito?
    Please oh please oh please?

  8. Just from this post alone your life sounds so very dreamy!

  9. ladidah2:42 AM

    i've made variations of the quinoa salad a few times and it's SO good. thank you! have you tried the red quinoa from Trader Joe's? Nuttier, chewier texture- made the salad even more amazing.

  10. My husband and son are quinoa freaks! This is a must try recipe. Thanks for sharing.