The calendar is telling us that it is spring, but here in Central Pennsylvania it is actually the season of limbo. The temperatures have been rising as the week draws to a close and today is supposed to be the warmest day yet! For the time being, the sun and warmth are like a balm for our cold, chapped, winter-weary souls. But we know that it won’t last and at any moment, winter could return and bring with it some snow and ice that is most unwelcome as we ease into April. It short, early spring is pretty much a meteorological purgatory.
In October, when the weather was just beginning to turn, I gravitated to all things warm and cozy and heavy – spaghetti, chili, and anything else carb-heavy that could qualify as bone-sticking. But now, in our early-spring limbo, I want food that is nourishing enough to see me through the cold that will undoubtedly return but also bright enough to remind me that warmer weather will come, and stay. Eventually. Lemon, fennel, and quinoa check all of those boxes. The lemon and fennel are bright and a little sweet, the quinoa is a nourishing protein, and you get a peppery kick from the arugula.
Don’t be afraid of fennel! I’m always a little discomfited when a vegetable doesn’t fit neatly in a produce bag. It just defies the seemingly natural order of things when you can’t put the produce item in a bag and neatly seal it up with a twist tie. If there is one thing I really love, it is ORDER, and fennel is without a doubt disorderly. It has a wild look to it with it’s fronds spiking out all over the place, so it is one of those vegetables (actually, it is an herb if you want to get technical about it) that many of us look at on the shelf and then immediately walk past in search of something more familiar. Fennel has a distinct anise-like taste to it when eaten raw, but don’t let that scare you either. I am not a fan of anise; I’ve never even liked black licorice, but fennel is milder and sweeter and tastes even better when mixed with citrus, as we do here.
If you’ve never bought or prepared fennel, this video from the New York Times is a great reference! One thing to note – you can eat the bulb, the stalk, and the fronds of the fennel plant. I have found the stalks to have a woody texture so I usually don’t use them. I only use the bulb and the fronds and leave the stalks for our wildlife friends in the back yard. You could consider that a perfectly good waste of fennel, but it makes them happy and if they are happy and less hungry, then it is my hope that they will eat fewer plants in my front flower bed.
Wishful thinking on my part? Likely.
Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Caramelized Lemon, & Arugula
A bright and lemony salad to help celebrate the arrival of spring!
- Prep Time: 25 min
- Total Time: 25 min
- Category: Salad, Food Prep
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. olive oil
1 T. red wine vinegar, if needed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. agave syrup (or honey for non-vegan)
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
3 oz. sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not in oil)
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 T. fennel fronds, chopped
2 cups thinly sliced fennel
3–4 oz. arugula
1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add rinsed quinoa and sun-dried tomatoes. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Set aside to cool.
2. Zest lemon, reserving zest. Cut lemon in half.
3. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add lemon halves, cut sides down, to the skillet. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, or until the cut side is nicely brown and caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. Once cool enough to handle, juice lemon. Add enough red wine vinegar to get 1/4 cup of liquid. (I usually end up with about 3 T. lemon juice and 1 T. red wine vinegar.) Add salt, agave (or honey), and 1/4 cup of olive oil and mix well.
4. Cut the fennel stalks from the top of the bulb, reserving some of the feathery fronds at the end of the stalks. Wipe the outside of the fennel bulb with a damp towel to remove any dirt. Cut fennel bulb in half, vertically. Cut out the core from inside the bulb. Thinly slice the fennel. A mandolin works very well here, and helps you to get extra thin slices of fennel. If using a mandolin, I do not remove the core and instead work my way around it. The core helps to keep the bulb intact so you have more to hold on to when slicing it with the mandolin.
5. Combine cooled quinoa with reserved lemon zest and lemon vinaigrette. Add fennel, olives, almonds, and fennel fronds, tossing to coat.
6. If you are serving immediately, gently toss in arugula. If you are making ahead, or keeping it as part of your weekly food prep, then keep arugula separate and serve salad on a bed of greens when you are ready to eat.
*Salad keeps well for several days. Keep arugula separate so it doesn’t get sad and wilted.
Keywords: lemon quinoa, quinoa food prep, food prep, fennel salad, fennel and lemon, fennel and quinoa
Every day I pick my kids up at the babysitter after work and every day I get the same cranky question:
“Moooooom, what’s for dinner?”
They’re not even completely inside the car before they’re hounding me about what we’re having to eat. And for the record, it’s not just a casual question. There’s no “Hey Mom, how are you? What’s for dinner?” or “You’ll never guess what happened at lunch today! By the way, what’s for dinner?” No, there is none of that. It is a daily query, raised with the explicit expectation that they will be disappointed, so it is therefore asked in a tone dripping with contempt. Dripping, because there is so much disdain for the as-yet-unknown dinner, it can’t be contained by a simple question. As they sit there in the backseat, every part of their being is exhibiting a hostility with regard to the dinner, that mind you, I haven’t even disclosed yet. But when I respond with “We’re having tacos!” then I get cheers and all is well…for the time being.
Arugula pesto, you are one of my new favorite things.
Sidenote: Arugula is also known as salad rocket, garden rocket, or simply, rocket. Doesn’t that make you laugh? What a funny name! Apparently this name is due to arugula’s lightning-fast growth rate. It makes me wonder if even I, Allison of the Black Thumb, could grow it. But then, a plant that is fast-growing doesn’t necessarily make it an easy-to-grow plant. And by easy, I mean that the said plant has to be able to survive and thrive through drought and intrusion of weeds, aka a general neglect on the part of the gardener –>me.
Pesto is a genius creation, don’t you think? Basil, which can have sweet, floral undertones is way different than arugula but substituting arugula is just as good. Instead of sweet and floral, you get grassy and peppery, which works very well with the earthiness of roasted beets. Adding arugula pesto to some quinoa and beets makes a salad that is a fantastic combination of grains, vegetables, and nuts. I first made this with barley instead of quinoa, and I loved it with barley too, but if you are gluten free, quinoa works just as well as is pictured here.