Summer Veggie Quinoa Salad

We were hit by a monster storm earlier this week, but after all the rain, thunder and lightning, it feels like summer has finally arrived. The weather’s been beautifully warm all weekend, the light’s been golden and Bondi has been packed.

Photo by :: uge
Photo by :: uge

Early summer (and early fall) are my favorite times of year. It’s weird to think of mid-October as “early summer”, but that’s how life goes for us here in the Southern Hemisphere. I love this time of year not just for the weather, but for the food. Plump blueberries, bright strawberries, sweet papaya and juicy mangoes have flooded the market aisles. Fresh ears of corn, bunches of kale and piles of multi-coloured tomatoes are overflowing from their crates. Summer is a time of both abundance and lightness. It’s the perfect time for salad.

Here’s the all-star I whipped up today.

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Summer Veggie Quinoa Salad

Isn’t it pretty? I made a big batch and stuck it in the fridge. The worst thing, if you’re trying to eat healthy, is to come home from work or the gym, tired and hungry, and find yourself resorting to Thai delivery. I’ve been guilty of this many a time, so I now use my Sundays to prep for the week ahead and make sure I have something nutritious and filling on hand.

This salad is completely vegetarian and uses quinoa as the base, which means it’ll stay good in the fridge for several days. Quinoa, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is loaded with protein, fiber and minerals. It’s also gluten-free and low GI, which means it’ll keep you feeling full longer. Quinoa is so nutritious that it’s been designated a “super-crop” (not just a super food!) by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Demand for the seed has exploded over the last few years and led to price swings and short supply. If you’re cooking with quinoa for the first time, the most important thing to keep in mind is to wash it extremely thoroughly. Unwashed quinoa is coated in saponin, a bitter-tasting substance that protects it from birds and insects. Warning: cooking your quinoa without first giving it a good rinse may result in an unhappy stomach!

tricolour_quinoa
I use a mix of red, white & black quinoa for a lovely nutty flavor and crunchy texture

Alright, disclaimers done, let’s dive in:

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups of quinoa
  • 4 cups of water (or vegetable broth)
  • 3-4 cups of your favorite summer vegetables (I used a handful of baby roma and yellow grape tomatoes, some green beans, a bunch of purple baby kale, one small cauliflower, four zucchinis and one cup of red cabbage)
  • Persian feta (you could also use goat cheese)
  • Crushed walnuts
  • Garlic and ginger paste
  • Olive oil

Method

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly and place in a big pot with roughly twice the amount of water. I like to throw in a cube of vegetable bouillon once the water heats up. It brings a wonderful flavor to the quinoa and makes it delicious by itself. You could also use homemade veggie stock if you prefer. To cook the quinoa, bring the water to a boil and simmer on low heat until all of it has been absorbed (about 15 minutes).  Fluff and set aside in a big bowl.

In the meantime, prep your veggies. I like to roast my zucchini and cauliflower with a little bit of olive oil, salt and curry powder.  I recently discovered this deceptively simple roasted cauliflower recipe by Summer Tomato and it’s become my go-to. It involves first steaming the cauliflower by covering the roasting tray with some foil and then roasting uncovered to get the florets all brown and crispy. Yum!

This whole process should take you about 20 minutes. I must warn you though that, at this point, you’ll be tempted to devour your delicious roast veggies and leave nothing for your salad. Don’t panic! Just remember to make a bigger batch so that you have enough for now and for later 🙂

Now for the other veggies. When it comes to green beans, I like to blanch them: throw them into a pot of boiling water with some salt, drain with a slotted spoon after 2 minutes and plunge into an ice bath to halt the cooking. Set aside.

Next, throw some olive oil, garlic and ginger paste into a frying or sauté pan and drop in the green beans, the thinly sliced red cabbage and a handful of kale. I used baby purple kale because it doesn’t need slicing or de-stemming and cooks faster than regular kale. Add some salt and give your veggies a good stir. Cook until the cabbage and kale are wilted and tender (5-10 minutes).

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I love these colors

Time to assemble your masterpiece! The quinoa should be nice and cool by now. Crumble a handful of walnuts (or almonds) and stir them through. Next, add your sauteed kale, cabbage and green beans and mix in your roasted cauliflower, zucchini and fresh halved tomatoes. The juices from the veggies will add some depth to the flavor, but we’re not done yet: crack open that jar of Persian Feta and scoop out a big hunk.

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Persian Feta is spelled with two ‘t’s, so as not to upset the Greeks 😉

I’m obsessed with Persian Feta. It’s very popular in Australia and is basically a marinated, less salty and more versatile version of its Greek cousin  — I eat it slathered on Turkish bread, on kebabs / in wraps and as a dip. It works perfectly in this salad because it’s creamy and flavorful but retains its form as you distribute it through the quinoa and veggies. Harris Farms does a beautiful Persian Feta with garlic and dill (not pictured), but if you aren’t able to get it locally, you could sub it with goat cheese or you might consider making your own. A fellow blogger in Paris has an easy guide to marinated feta right here.

Give the whole thing a nice big stir and voilà! Your salad is ready to devour (or to cover and store in the fridge for later). Enjoy 🙂

Summer Salads: Salmon Niçoise


After watching Julia Roberts indulge her appetite for spaghetti bolognese, pizza napoletana and fluffy Italian desserts in Eat Pray Love, I decided to go back to Italy do some cooking of my own. I’ve had the good fortune to eat at some mind-blowing restaurants this summer, but I’m excited to try out some new recipes and tinker with some old favorites. So, to ease into it, here’s my simple spin on a hearty, healthy Salade Niçoise:

Salad Ingredients:
One cup salad leaves (mesclun mix works great here, but you can substitute with whatever you like / have on hand)
2 eggs, boiled and cut into wedges
A handful (100gms) of green beans
A few artichoke hearts in brine, drained
2 plum tomatoes (or other tomatoes, in season) cut into wedges
10 black olives (no big deal if you use green)
200gm canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (you can also use butter beans aka lima beans)
200gm canned salmon in brine or spring water, drained and separated into chunks (you can also use the more traditional tuna)
1 tbs capers
1 tbs chopped tarragon

Dressing:
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil and balsamic vinegar (traditional recipe calls for French Dressing)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2

For perfectly boiled eggs, place them in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. There should be enough water to cover an inch above the eggs. Cook over medium heat until the water comes to a boil and then simmer for 3-4 minutes. Drain and plunge the eggs into cold water to stop the cooking process (you don’t want the whites to taste rubbery or the yolks to turn grey). Peel and cut into wedges.

Next, you need to blanch the green beans. Prepare them by washing thoroughly and then snipping the tip off with a paring knife (the stem end tends to be very tough). Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Do not add salt as this will draw water out of the beans. At the same time, ready an ice bath with ice cubes and cold water. Drop the beans into the boiling water and let them cook for 2 minutes. Then drain with a slotting spoon and let them chill in the ice bowl for about 5 minutes. This will halt the cooking process and prevent them from turning soggy.

Arrange the salad leaves on two plates and add the tomato, artichoke, salmon, egg, green bean and cannellini beans. Top with the capers and olives.

To make the dressing, put the ingredients together in a bowl or cup and whisk until blended. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle over the salad and sprinkle with tarragon. Done!

Rachel Ray's salmon niçoise
Rachel Ray’s salmon niçoise

*Note: you can also add back in the sardines as well as red potatoes. I deliberately excluded them from this recipe because sardines are the one thing I absolutely refuse to eat and because cooking potatoes will add 15 minutes to this recipe 😉

À bout de Souffle

I absolutely love dinner parties. When you invite someone to dinner, you invite them into your home and into your heart. Retrieving a recipe, obtaining the ingredients, monitoring the stove, laying the table and of course cooking the meal requires a degree of care and intimacy that no restaurant meal could ever match. So, as I rang the buzzer outside SFP 2, I smiled in anticipation of the happy French meal that lay ahead.

We started with prawn cocktail and pastry puffs, followed by a lovely salad of sliced strawberries, fresh arugula, slivered almonds and a sweet tangy vinaigrette. The main course was baked salmon accompanied by roasted zucchini and steamed rice.

And dessert! Shabs made individual dark chocolate souffles. They only took 12 minutes to bake and were deliciously light yet decadent. I haven’t done any baking in a while, but these mouthwatering souffles (and cute silicone baking cups) have inspired me to give it a go. Get the recipe here!