Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Sweet Potatoes & Corn

The market is in the process of turning the corner from summer into fall.  I can still get local eggplant, tomatoes, peppers...even sweet corn, but the presence of the winter squashes this past weekend could no longer be brushed off as an anomaly. And the truth is, I love this moment in the year...for two or three weeks (sometimes longer), I get to cook with the produce of two seasons.  It makes for some interesting and delicious combinations.  Today's post...a grain salad featuring summer's corn and autumn's sweet potatoes...is a good example of the good food of this moment. 

Corn with sweet potatoes is one of the happiest combinations I know...sweet, reinforced with sweet.  I freeze corn every summer just so I can make a favorite corn and sweet potato chowder as a sunny pick me up during the winter months. When black beans are added to the mix, corn and sweet potatoes become an amazingly satisfying combination.  A few years ago I posted a quick ragout of corn, sweet potatoes and black beans...served with a sweet potato and cornmeal pancake

So when it was time to put together a slate of recipes for a new class dubbed "Simple Suppers for Early Autumn", a dish featuring these two together was high on my list of things to include.  I can't remember now how I came upon the idea of combining them in a quinoa salad with black beans (possibly the memory of the aforementioned ragout...), but I'm glad I did.   It is satisfying...and interesting (with lots of different textures and contrasting flavors)...and delicious.  (It would be a great way to introduce the uninitiated to quinoa...)

First sweet potatoes of the season...
tossed with smoked paprika and ready for the oven....
If, as you look at the recipe, you are feeling a bit daunted by the length of the ingredient list, you shouldn't.  Many of the components can be made ahead.  Certainly the quinoa, roasted corn, vinaigrette and honey glazed pepitas can.  Even the sweet potatoes could be.  In fact, thinking about this salad in terms of its finished components—rather than its individual ingredients—is the best way to look at it.  It is actually a pretty simple salad.

I think this salad makes a fine supper.  But for people who want meat for dinner, it would not be a great option.  Fortunately it makes a fantastic work or school lunch since it is an excellent keeper.  For those who are wondering how the greens hold up, I think they hold up just fine...particularly if you choose kale as your green (in which case the salad probably tastes better after sitting for a while).  Other, less substantial greens can be left out and simply piled on top of the salad in your container. 

Greens on top...ready to be folded in...
At lunch, you can just fold them in right before you dig in.  I also think the keeping qualities of this dish would make it an ideal contribution to an early fall picnic or pot luck. 

We had this salad for dinner just last night.  The day started cool...but turned out to be unusually warm for this time of year.  A room temperature/cool salad was just the thing for dinner.  But beyond that, it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the flavors of fall.  I'm not quite ready to let go of summer's foods...and I wasn't really sure I was in the mood for sweet potatoes.  But when I sat down to dinner...  and sampled the first bite of sweet potato that I have had in several months...I couldn't believe how good they tasted.

 Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Sweet Potatoes & Corn

1 c. quinoa (preferably white), well rinsed
1 1/4 c. water
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks (1/2- by 1- by 1-inch)
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. smoked Spanish paprika (sweet paprika is fine if Pimentón de la Vera is not available)
generous pinch cayenne
2 to 3 ears corn (to make 1 1/2 to 2 c. kernels)
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 fat clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 t. cumin
6 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
1/2 small red onion, finely diced, rinsed and thoroughly drained on paper towels (to make 1/3 to 1/2 c.)
2 oz. hearty greens (arugula, spinach, baby kale...or any favorite blend)—very coarsely chopped
1 recipe honey glazed pepitas (below) or 1/2 c. plain toasted pepitas

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Place the water and quinoa, along with a generous pinch of salt in a medium sauce pan.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the quinoa reaches your preferred tenderness and the white coiled germ is visible—anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes. Let rest, covered and off of the heat, for 5 minutes. Taste to check for salt, then spread the quinoa on a sheet pan to cool.

Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, spices and salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven.  Roast until tender and lightly caramelized, stirring once—about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside.

Place the corn, in the husk, in the oven along with the sweet potatoes (on a different rack).  Remove after 20 minutes.  When the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks.  Slice the kernels away from the cobs.  Use the back of the knife, or a spoon, to scrape the cobs.  Add the scrapings to the kernels.  Set aside.

While the vegetables and quinoa cook make the vinaigrette:  Place the lime juice and garlic in a small bowl.  Let sit for five to ten minutes.  Add the cumin and salt & pepper to taste.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste for salt.  Set aside.

To make the salad, place the quinoa, sweet potatoes, corn, black beans and red onions in a very large bowl.  Add the vinaigrette.  Carefully toss (to avoid breaking up or smashing the sweet potatoes) until everything is well coated in the vinaigrette.  

Add the greens and toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lime juice.  If the salad seems dry, add more olive oil.  The salad may be served at room temperature or chilled.  (If you are not serving right away, wait to add the greens until just prior to serving.)

To serve, transfer to a large platter or individual plates and scatter the pepitas over all.  Serves 4 very generously as an entrée.

Honey Glazed Pepitas:

Warm a scant 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add 1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds and toss to coat.  

Cook, stirring and tossing until the pumpkin seeds are popping and lightly colored.  

Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle a teaspoon of honey over and toss to coat. 

Spread the nuts on a plate to cool.  

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