Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Grain Salads for Early Summer

I have always thought that pizza and pasta are two of the very best blank canvases upon which to improvise fresh, seasonal meals. A quick glance at the recipe page of my blog will bear this out. But if you are a regular reader, you will have also noticed grain based dishes showing up in this space with some frequency. I will always love pizza and pasta, but more and more I am turning to grains—particularly quinoa and farro—when I want to pull together a quick meal. Today I thought I would post two grain based salads—both bursting with the bounty of the late spring and early summer market—that we enjoyed this past week.

On the night I made the quinoa salad, I discovered two containers of roasted beets (one red and one golden) in the refrigerator (it has been a really good year for beets at the market). As I looked at the beets, I remembered the delicious Quinoa Salad with Beets and Avocado that I posted back in March of this year. Thinking of this put me in the mood for the quinoa. Because I didn't have any avocados or oranges on hand, I began to think about other things I did have that would be good with the beets and quinoa. It didn't take me too long to settle on some beautiful yellow wax beans that I had purchased at the market, some walnuts (good with beets and green beans) and some salty-tangy Kalamata olives. I served the salad as a stand-alone entrée with some halved hard-cooked eggs. We found it to be very satisfying, but if as a meal it seems a bit too Spartan for you, this salad would be delicious served as a side to salmon.

The Minted Farro Salad with Peas is one that I taught recently in a class on picnic foods. I found the recipe in Martha Stewart's Whole Living Magazine and I taught it almost exactly as I found it. At the time, it occurred to me that it would be very good with the addition of some sweet corn. So, since we are now in that narrow window of the growing season when both fresh shelling peas and sweet corn are available, I thought I would give the salad a try with the corn. It was fact, I think I like it even better with the addition of the corn. For dinner on the night I made this salad, we ate it as the main course (with some Bing Cherries for dessert). We enjoyed it very much, but I think it would actually be better served as a side dish. It would be great with chicken or pork and I suspect that its cooling presence would be particularly good alongside barbecue.

Both of these salads were perfect summer fare—light, refreshing and filled with the bounty of the season. Even better, they both held up very well under overnight refrigeration. In each case, I had a fine lunch the next day. If you are looking for a slightly unusual side dish for a picnic or a pot luck, either of these will fill the bill nicely. Or, if you are simply looking for a way to change up your same old-same old, I think they might just do the trick for that, too.

Quinoa Salad with Beets, Green Beans & Olives

4 medium-sized beets (about 2- to 2 1/2-inches in diameter), trimmed
Vinegar, to taste (whatever kind you prefer—red wine, white wine, sherry or balsamic)
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 to 3 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 c. walnuts
1 c. diced onion—use what you have, spring onions (with some of the green) or summer onions (that have not yet developed a papery skin)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. (scant) cumin seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
1 c. Quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c. water
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut on an angle in 2-inch lengths
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olive, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup mint, cut in a fine chiffonade
Lemon juice—to taste

Scrub beets and place in a shallow baking dish. Add a quarter inch of water, cover tightly with foil and transfer to a 375° oven. Roast until tender to the tip of a knife—this will be anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes, depending on the beets. Uncover the beets and let cool. When cool enough to handle, trim the stem and root away. Rub the skin off using a paper towel. Cut the beets into 8 wedges and place in a small bowl. Taste. If the beets aren't very sweet, drizzle a little vinegar over them...this will accentuate their sweetness. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. (See notes.) When ready to put the salad together, toss the beets with a drizzle of olive oil.

Spread the walnuts in a small baking pan and toast in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant—about 5 minutes. Cool. Break into medium-coarse pieces, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and toss with some salt. Set aside.

Place the cumin and fennel in a small sauté pan and toast until fragrant over moderate heat. Watch carefully so that the spices don't burn. Transfer to a plate to cool. Grind with a mortar and pestle and set aside.

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a medium sauce pan set over moderate heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until onion tender—about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and spices and cook briefly (a minute or two) until fragrant. Add the quinoa and continue to cook and stir until the grain is well-coated with the oil, lightly toasted and hot through—2 or 3 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender—12 to 15 minutes. Let rest, covered and off of the heat, for 5 minutes. Spread the quinoa on a sheet pan to cool.

While the quinoa cooks, blanch the green beans in a pan of boiling salted water until tender. Lift the beans out of the water and spread on kitchen towels to cool.

When all of the components are done (and cool/cold), place the quinoa, green beans, walnuts, olives, mint and golden beets in a large bowl and toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice, if you like. If the salad seems dry, drizzle with some olive oil and toss again. If you are using red beets, wait to toss these in until just before serving the salad. Because they have been tossed with a bit of olive oil, they will not bleed as badly, but they will still bleed a bit. Adding them at the end, just before serving, will prevent them from coloring the salad too much. Serves 3 or 4 as an entrée; serves 6 as a side.

• The beets can be made ahead and refrigerated. I used both red & gold beets. If you use both, you must roast them in separate pans or the red beet will stain the gold beets.
• If serving as an entrée, add 4 hard cooked eggs, cut into halves or quarters. Or, serve with plain yogurt.

Printable Recipe

Farro Salad with Peas, Mint & Goat Cheese

2 T. Olive oil
1 c. diced onion—use what you have, spring onions (with some of the green) or summer onions (that have not yet developed a papery skin)
1c. semi-pearled farro, rinsed
2 c. water
1 c. peas (from 1 lb. in the pod)
zest of 1 lemon
1 T. lemon juice
2 to 3 t. olive oil
1/4 to 1/3 c. fresh mint—if leaves are small, leave them whole...otherwise cut into a chiffonade
2 to 3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Sweat the onion, along with a pinch of salt, in the olive oil until the onion is tender—about 5 minutes. Add the farro and continue to cook and stir until the farro is well-coated with the oil, lightly toasted and hot through—2 or 3 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for 5 minutes. When the farro is done, drain off the excess liquid and spread the farro on a sheet pan to cool.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to the boil. Salt generously. Add the peas and cook until tender—about 2 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water to stop the cooking process.

Place the farro and peas, along with all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Serves 6 as a side salad.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Whole Living Magazine, May 2011)

Sweet Corn Variation: Add a couple of ears-worth of sweet corn (roasted on the cob). The ears I used produced about 1 1/3 cups of kernels. I increased the farro to 1 1/3 cup (and the water accordingly) and added more olive oil and lemon juice to taste in the final salad.

Note: If you blanch the peas before you cook the farro, you can use 2 cups of the pea blanching liquid to make the farro.

Printable Recipe

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love salads like this - the minted pea with the goats cheese really does it for me! so delicious:)
Mary x