My new kitchen has by far the most counter space and storage of my adult life. It has opened me to so many new tools and little indulgences, simply because I have the space to use and stow them. Vases for flowers, tea light candles, a food processor, a huge cutting board, a salad spinner: these are things that I now have space for, and being ever committed to simple pleasures, I see them as a currency that improves the quality of my daily life. While I’m not using it daily, the food processor is certainly broadening my culinary repertoire. For years, I have disregarded recipes that require food processors; amazing how an extra cabinet opens up new avenues in the kitchen.
Last weekend, I was visiting my aunt, and she sent me home with the most beautiful bouquet of fresh herbs from her garden; bursting with basil, the bundle immediately made me think of pesto. After an exhaustive recipe search on the internet, I decided that quinoa salad with pesto would do the trick: satisfying, but not heavy, and a great excuse to bust out my food processor. If you wanted to make this recipe without the hassle and expense of making pesto from scratch, you won’t be missing anything with a good store-brought pesto. I recommend getting one from the refrigerated section; their herbs tend to be much more flavorful and vibrant.
The skinny on this salad: make your pesto and steam your quinoa. Chop up a bunch of vegetables (cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cucumbers, olives, chick peas, scallions) and some fresh mozzarella. Mix everything together in a big bowl, with a little extra lemon juice or vinegar, maybe an extra splash of olive oil to distribute the pesto, and you’ve got dinner. I also added a bit of arugula when I served it, but it feels pretty complete without it. Every bite is full of tasty treasures: refreshing cucumber; sweet, juicy tomatoes; smooth, salty olives; buttery fresh mozzarella. You can’t lose. I know this sort of sounds like “chick food,” but it’s pretty satisfying. Between the quinoa, chick peas, and cheese, this dish is packed with protein; however, if you or your dining partner are really famished, or jonesing for animal protein, this would be great with a grilled, sliced chicken sausage served over it.
A note on the cheese: I participated in an extensive internal debate, weighing feta against fresh mozzarella. I liked the fact that feta would have a stronger flavor, but I ultimately chose fresh mozzarella because I was concerned about how the crumbly quality of feta would affect the overall structural integrity of the dish. Because of how it falls apart, I anticipated it contributing an overly mucky and heavy quality to the salad. I don’t think there is really a bad decision between the two cheese, but I chose the fresh mozzarella because I thought it would hold up better.
Quinoa Salad (makes 4-6 servings)
- 1 cup white quinoa
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, diced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 15 kalamata olives, quartered
- 1-14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 6 scallions, minced
- 1 large ball fresh mozzarella (8 oz.), diced
- 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2-3/4 cup pesto (recipe below, or use store-bought)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Flavor boosters, to taste (any or all of the following: fresh lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, Bragg’s liquid aminos, drizzle of honey, hot sauce, red pepper flakes)
- Baby arugula, for serving (about 1-1 1/2 cups per person)
- Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
- Cook quinoa in water per package directions (making sure to rinse it very well in a mesh strainer prior to cooking). Set aside in a large bowl, and allow to cool while you prep the vegetables.
- Chop everything!
- Add cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, artichokes, chick peas, fresh mozzarella, scallions, and about 1/2 cup of pesto.
- Mix and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Now add additional seasonings until the flavors taste balanced. I used a couple extra tablespoons of pesto, a few tablespoons of lemon juice, a couple of teaspoons of Bragg’s, and a little bit of honey. Mine didn’t need any additional oil, but it will depend on how much oil is in your pesto and your tastes.
- Serve over arugula, or on its own, and sprinkle with a little bit of Parmesan.
Pesto (makes about 3/4 cup)
- 1 1/2 cups of fresh basil and fresh mint*
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- zest of 1 lemon
- juice of half a lemon (about 1-2 tablespoons)
- big pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin oil oil
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine garlic and walnuts, and pulse briefly to roughly chop
- Add herbs, lemon zest and juice, parmesan, salt and pepper. Pulse until blended.
- Scrape down sides of the food processor, and drizzle in oil while pulsing until everything is combined and smooth. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
*You could easily just use basil in this pesto. If you do use mint (as I did), you want this pesto to be at least 90% basil. Adding just a few springs of mint, if it’s available to you, will give it a refreshing element, without overpowering the basil.
August 15, 2015