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
I love it when I can combine several of my favorite foods and flavors all in one place and have it result in something really delicious – which is exactly what happened here. I started off wanting to experiment with a cold sweet potato salad with a fall vibe, thinking along the lines of a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar and maple syrup. Then I added Dijon mustard for some extra tang. Then maple syrup just goes with bacon, and bacon goes with everything, so that was thrown in. And then a friend of mine told me about a roasted sweet potato and Brussels sprout dish she made recently, so I shredded up some Brussels sprouts and put them in the mix. And viola, sweet potato and Brussels sprout salad was born, and I am immediately loving it. Eat a little as a side or a lot on top of some greens for a quick lunch or dinner.
There are certain recipes that I gravitate to when I know my schedule is going to get hectic. Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken is definitely one of them, but right next to it at the top of that list is this wild rice salad. I love that it holds up for several days, so it fits well into a meal prep day and gives you a few different options for lunches and/or dinners throughout the week.
Summer Blueberry Kale Salad has so much good-for-you stuff going on. We’ve got the kale, obviously; blueberries, which we know are packed with antioxidants; plus some healthy nuts and seeds, shredded carrots, and for sweetness a few dried cranberries. Everything is tossed together with an easy peasy honey balsamic vinaigrette.
Some people fear raw kale because on the stalk, it’s tough and you may not know what to do with it. But really, making a raw kale salad is no more difficult than any other kind of green salad, except for this one thing: add the dressing to the greens alone first and mix it well. When I say “mix well” I mean it, no gentle tossing. This isn’t baby spinach or field greens. Your hands are your best utensils so wash up and use them to “massage” the dressing into the greens. The idea here is that by “massaging” the kale with the dressing, the you are breaking down the kale just enough that it becomes tender and delicious. You know you’re doing the right thing when you see the kale turn from a dull, dark green to a bright, shiny green.
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.
My Nana was a most extraordinary lady. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since we lost her. As this is Holy Week there are surely parallels to be made about resurrection and new life. But frankly, they do not bring me comfort because they do not bring back her smile or her dancing or her enthusiasm for life which was contagious to those around her. I feel like I should do more here in tribute to her; I want to do more here in tribute to her, given the profound impact she has had on my life. At her memorial service I talked about how I believed that Nana’s legacy was that she taught us the language of food. She showed us how we can channel our feelings of grief, joy, and frustration into the preparation of food and use it to show other people that we care about them. It would seem fitting then, that tomorrow we plan a huge dinner in honor and remembrance of her. But the idea of doing so seems like an overwhelming task because there is simply so much to say, both with words and with food. Where do you even begin?
Answer: You begin with bunnies. Pear bunnies, to be exact.
The idea for this salad came from dinner that I recently had at my sister’s house. I had traveled down with the kids for our first overnight at their new house (which is an old schoolhouse, how cool is that?!) and she made delicious Mexican rice bowls for dinner. It was perfect because she knew how much I love Mexican flavors and my husband who may or may not have a cumin allergy (long story), was not with us, so we had ourselves a little fiesta! There was seasoned rice and black beans, guacamole, fresh salsa, and pickled cabbage and you just piled whatever you wanted in your bowl, which of course, was everything. I had a bowl and a half and I had to force myself to stay in my seat and not allow myself to go back for a third helping.
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.
Let’s be honest, a great watermelon is basically perfect on its own. So I consider the star of the show here to be the mint vinaigrette. After all, how many things can you add to a watermelon that only serve to magnify it’s perfection? Exactly.
Sweet watermelon, salty feta cheese, invigorating mint vinaigrette – every time I eat this, I feel like my taste buds are about to do a happy dance inside my mouth. Admittedly, the whole party in your mouth verbiage is completely cliche and I’m actually kind of embarrassed that I just wrote it. But in this very specific instance, it really fits! I don’t know who originally decided to put mint, watermelon, and feta together but they really were a genius, don’t you think? I found a sweet yellow watermelon at a local farm stand and as I was driving it home, the bees in my head started buzzing: “I love watermelon salad, I must make one!” “What if I took the mint and onions and incorporated them into a vinaigrette to simplify the whole shebang?” “No onions, use shallots so it’s not so oniony.” “Yes, great idea! I must do it!”
So I did, and it is delicious, and you must try it.