Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Spinach, Strawberry & Quinoa Salad

Hello Foodies,

If not from the heat (!), the produce in the market has surely announced the arrival of Summer. When the temperatures soar there is nothing more refreshing than a bite of juicy strawberry or watermelon. Lucky for me there's a huge strawberry farm close to where I work and the berries there are the best. The center of the berries are filled with sweet juices that fill your mouth as you bite into it. I've bought countless punnets of berries this season and have hardly cooked anything with them. The path of least resistance leads right to my mouth from the basket and there's no stopping. But its not just the strawberries that are at their best right now, there's a lot of green gems to focus on as well. Candy like sweet peas and fava beans are a delight, salad greens like arugula, spinach, chard, kale are all vying for your attention. Mother Nature knows what we need and when we need it so why tinker with her.

I had a refreshing strawberry spinach salad at the local deli a few weeks back and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The fresh bite of the strawberries against the earthy & light spinach made for a really satisfying lunch. A google search revealed that the combo wasn't uncommon, but it was to me. I would never have used strawberries in a salad and now, not anymore. A simple lemon vinaigrette works just as well but I've been in a fennel phase lately. So I lightly toasted fennel seeds and used them to flavor a vinaigrette bursting with lemon zest. Making vinaigrette's at home is a revelation if you haven't tried it yet. You don't need fancy ingredients make one - a lemon, good olive oil, salt & pepper is all you need to get started. And then based on how often you have salads you can begin exploring by using different vinegars, oils, mustards, spices etc. Using the very same ingredients you can completely change the flavor profile of a salad by using a different dressing.

Spinach, Strawberry & Quinoa Salad
Prep time - 10mins
Cook time - 30mins
Servings - 2
  • 1/4 cup - Quinoa
  • 2 cups - Baby Spinach, washed & drained (or mixed greens)
  • 2 Tbsp - Walnuts, toasted & coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup - Fava beans
  • 3/4 -1 cup - Strawberries, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp - Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Fennel - Citrus Vinaigrette
  • 1/2 tsp - Fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp - Lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp - Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tbsp - Extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/8 tsp - Sea salt & Pepper, freshly ground (adjust both to taste)
  • Toast quinoa until it just begins to pop (optional) and rinse under multiple changes of water. Combine with a little less than 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for 15mins until all the water is absorbed by the quinoa. Keep covered for another 10mins and fluff with a fork.
  • To prepare fava beans, bring water to a boil and dunk them in for just a minute before draining. When cool the handle the outer skin should pop right off. Wash, drain the strawberries and slice lengthwise. Wash and thoroughly dry spinach or greens of choice.
  • Vinaigrette - Toast fennel seeds on a low heat until they begin to turn color and are fragrant. Transfer to a pestle & mortar and grind to a fine powder. Add lemon zest, juice, salt, pepper and combine. Drizzle in the olive oil and combine using the pestle to emulsify. Dip a leaf of spinach to test for seasonings and adjust accordingly.
  • When ready to serve, season the quinoa first with a bit of the dressing. Combine spinach, strawberries, fava beans and toss together with a little more dressing. (This recipe makes extra dressing, you'll need about a teaspoon to dress a cup of greens) Top the salad with some freshly grated parmesan, if needed.

Notes: This is more of an idea than a recipe and the options for variation are many. Swap blueberries for strawberries, pecans or almonds for walnuts, or try candied/spiced nuts instead. Arugula or mixed greens could be substituted for spinach. Add a spoon of pesto to season quinoa instead of vinaigrette. Perhaps, skip quinoa entirely and use cooked brown/green/black lentils instead.

This was a satisfying salad chockful of fresh flavors and textures. Every bite has something interesting with each ingredient being at the peak of its flavor. I try cooking quinoa and lentils in bigger batches that last a few meals which makes putting together salads like this very convenient. And after a nutrient rich meal like this one you are sure to feel good about yourself..and probably make room for a cool dessert which is, afterall, the ultimate goal :)

Friday, June 08, 2012

Friday Frames | of Seeds and Pods

Hello foodies,

A weekends back, as I was organizing my kitchen pantry I decided to sprout a few of the everyday seeds I use and see what comes up. Here's a glimpse of a few surprises....

Kalonji - Onion flowers ?!
Mustard pods!

I had never given mustard seeds a thought, did not think about how they are grown or harvested. Did you know they grow just like peas in a pod ? After seeing these teeny tiny pods, I am not going to complain about shelling peas anymore :)

the flowers were a pretty yellow color

Thyme Flowers

and finally here's some vanilla extract brewing
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