Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint


Summer fruits aren’t wasting any time bursting onto the outdoor dining scene. Whether it’s a picnic, BBQ, or first dinner on the patio; berries, melons, pits, and citrus are rallying to stake their presence in any and every warm-weather seasonal dish. Enough of limiting us to breakfast sides and post-dinner desserts, they scoff.  Chilled soups, bold salads, hearty grains, grilled mains…. we want in on it all!

Oh so sweet but equally determined, they are collectively led by the mighty strawberry. The most represented fruit on the summer savory dish circuit, we don’t skip a beat seeing a strawberry-balsamic glaze or goat cheese-strawberry salad on a main menu.  Which is why the juicy red berry shines in this herb-flecked, warm-toned summer Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint.
A side salad (add a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp to elevate to a main) that promises a warm welcome at any communal outdoor gathering, this quinoa salad is the perfect potato-salad-pick-me-up thanks to its bold, refreshing flavors and novel pairing of well-known parts. Scallions, cucumber, almonds, strawberries, feta, parsley, and mint are nothing new; but tossed all together…does it work? Oh, you bet it does! No bite tastes the same with the infinite combinations of each chopped ingredient, transforming flavors as you dig deeper into the salad for the next surprising gustatory pop.
This recipe is the first I’ve used with champagne vinegar; a subtle, citrus acidity that delivers a much milder taste than it’s apple cider and white wine vinegar cousins.  While I appreciated the subtleness, I think next time I’d use a bolder vinegar: for salad bites that didn’t contain the naturally acidic strawberry, I felt that the dressing could’ve used something more. I also forwent the almond oil only because I didn’t have any, but imagine that its nutty flavors would’ve helped meld the flavors even more seamlessly. (A smart calorie-conscious move would be to half the oil, no matter which kind you use—3 tablespoons is plenty!)
Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint (from PureWow)
Makes 6 side-servings (second helpings are inevitable, so if you're hungry, feeds 4)

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons almond oil*
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil*
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (can substitute apple cider or red/white wine vinegar)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 strawberries, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
½ English cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves

*As I noted above, I recommend using no more than 3 tablespoons oil total.

Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan set over high heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed all the water, about 12 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer the quinoa to a large baking sheet or plate and spread it out to cool to room temperature. This step is optional. If you are eating immediately, a slightly warmed quinoa tastes wonderful too.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk the almond oil with the olive oil, champagne vinegar and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the cooled quinoa with the strawberries, scallions, feta cheese, almonds, cucumber, parsley and mint. Re-whisk the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve.

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