It's salad season. But I don't mean that in a negative, it's-almost-time-to-put-on-a-bathing-suit kind of way. I mean because the markets are once again full of fresh, vibrant produce, from artichokes and baby beets to radishes and watercress. And because the vegetables are in such abundance, they cost a fraction of what they did all winter. Cheap and delicious—what could be better?
One of my favorite spring veggies has always been asparagus. Whether simply broiled with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper or showcased in a sophisticated soup (I love Jerry Traunfeld's version with fresh thyme), I just can’t get enough of its sweet, crunchy, herbaceous flavor. For this week's magazine recipe review, I decided to prepare the quinoa salad with asparagus, dates, and orange from the April issue of Cooking Light.
Aside from being chock full of fiber, protein, and vitamins, the recipe appealed to me because it seemed like something I could prepare ahead of time and then eat for lunch all week long, scooped over a pile of mesclun and sprinkled with a little extra vinaigrette. Plus, I was intrigued by the hodgepodge of ingredients, including toasted pecans, diced jalapeño, and chopped mint.
The recipe came together very quickly and yielded terrific results. While I stuck closely to the instructions, I did make a few small changes: I increased the amount of pecans from 1/4 to 1/2 a cup (calorie counts be damned!) and I substituted dried plums for the dates (a small package of dates at my supermarket costs a whopping $6).
The finished salad was a gorgeous array of colors and textures. The flavors were rich and contrasting, from the snappy asparagus and the hot pepper to the juicy orange and the soothing mint. Additionally, I determined that it was the perfect vehicle for ingredient add-ins and switches. Next time why not toss in some sliced avocado or shredded chicken? Swap the asparagus for fava beens and the orange for grapefruit?
About the author: Lucy Baker is a graduate student in the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Before returning to school to pursue an MFA, she was an assistant cookbook editor at HarperCollins. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently obsessed with all things fennel.
- Yield:8 3/4 cup servings
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped white onion
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup fresh orange sections
- 1/4-1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced red onion
- 5 dates (or dried plums) pitted and diced
- 1/2 pound steamed and chilled asparagus, cut into 2-inch slices
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish
To make the salad: Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the white onion and sauté 2 minutes. Add the quinoa and sauté 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let stand 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Transfer quinoa mixture to a large bowl, add orange, pecans, red onion, dates (or plums) asparagus, and jalapeño.
To make the dressing: Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle with chopped mint and garnish with mint sprigs. Serve at room temperature.