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
It comes as a surprise (to some) that a waffle recipe with the words “vegan” and “quinoa” in it can be so delicious. This is one of those recipes that is best described to my husband in vague terms because if he knew what I really called it, he would instantly be wary and disinclined to try it. As it was, I just made him the waffles, he happily ate them and said they were good before I told him that they had quinoa and flax in them. Then he promptly groaned and told me I had to stop forcing him to eat so healthy. He did, for the record, eat them several days in a row for breakfast, so apparently he got over his initial nutritional misgivings pretty quickly.
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.
It is my dream to visit Provence. I imagine that I’ll find a quaint little house to rent with a bright blue door and window boxes overflowing with flowers. The house will sit on a lane just a short walk from town (What town? I have no idea; does it matter? This is a dream after all.) and border a lavender farm so every night as I go to sleep with my windows open (blissfully unconcerned about mosquitoes or would-be intruders), the warm air will carry with it the soothing scent of lavender. Next to my bright blue door, I’ll have a giant rosemary bush and whenever I pass by it I’ll pull off a few springs and stuff them in my pockets, because I have a strange tendency to do that. I think it’s an excellent plan. Who wants to join me? You are extra specially welcome to come if you know French….since I don’t….and it would probably be helpful.
If you’re not already on the quinoa cup train, hop on board! I first pinned these from Iowa Girl Eats and let them languish on my Breakfast board for several months before I finally gave them a try. I make little egg fritattas in muffin pans all of the time but despite putting quinoa in just about everything else, I was skeptical about adding it to eggs. In the end, I’m so very glad I tried them because they have become a staple in my weekly meal plans.
I pack soup for lunch just about every day. It’s easy to think of soup as strictly “winter food,” but I work with my husband who prefers to keep our office as cold as possible so every day is winter in our building! In January it’s chilly and drafty and in August the air conditioning is cranked so high that you need two sweaters to remain defrosted enough to type. Needless to say, I find hot soup to be welcome no matter the season.
Recently, I made the potstickers from over at Damn Delicious and they were indeed damn delicious. I was such a fan that I wondered if I could use the filling to make meatballs and float them in a soup kind of like an Italian wedding soup with an Asian twist. So that’s what I did. I modified the filling and shaped it into little potsticker meatballs and then used similar flavors to spice up the soup broth.
It is my general belief that more people would eat their vegetables if they came in colors as beautiful as those found in swiss chard. The stems are practically hot pink! Why wouldn’t you want to eat that? Don’t even get me started on the fact that swiss chard as a great source of Magnesium as well as Vitamins K and C.
Be that as it may, to some, the idea of eating a plateful of chard is less than appealing (Yes, Ray, I mean you). Here, we pair some sauteed chard with caramelized onions and Gruyere in a quinoa crust. The onions are sweet, the Gruyere is nutty, and you don’t even realize you’re eating something that’s actually really good for you, which is exactly how I prefer my food to be. You could definitely substitute any old swiss cheese here, but one reason you can use so little is because Gruyere has a more intense flavor than your average swiss. If you splurge for it, wrap up the rest and throw it in your freezer, because we’ll use it again in the future!
Do me a favor, and don’t wig out about the prospect of a quinoa crust. It’s actually a fantastic idea. I thought for about five minutes that I was the brainchild behind this whole concept, until I Googled “quinoa crust” out of curiosity and discovered that not only did I not create it, but I’m actually late to the quinoa crust party. I wish I could adequately describe it with a word other than “chewy” or “crispy,” both of which seem entirely too prosaic for an idea that is so innovative. Unfortunately for you, I’m getting nowhere on that front, so I suppose you’ll just have to give it a try and find out for yourself.
If you have never cooked quinoa, don’t be afraid. It is cooked much like couscous or rice. Do make sure to rinse your quinoa before putting it in the pot, otherwise it can have a bitter flavor. Once cooked and cooled somewhat, combine it with a beaten egg and press the mixture into a pie pan to form your crust. I found that getting the mixture evenly distributed was most easily done by using a large dry measuring cup to press the mixture down and around the sides of the pan.